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On Truth 


The Tyranny of 
Illusion 

Free Version 

Please enjoy this free version of 
“On Truth.” 

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Stefan Molyneux 


For my beloved wife Christina, who teaches me all that is true, and shows me 
everything that is possible. . . 


...and to the listeners of Freedomain Radio, whose passion, generosity and 
participation has made this book - and all the books to come - possible. Thank 
you for the gift of this time. 


On Truth: The Tyranny of Illusion, by Stefan Molyneux. 

Please feel free to distribute this book to whomever you think would benefit from it, as long as you 
do not modify the contents in any way. 

The Freedomain Library, Volume 1 


Version 1.1, October 4 2007 



F rom a short-term, merely practical standpoint, you really do not 
want to read this book. This book will mess up your life, as you 
know it. This book will change every single one of your 
relationships - most importantly, your relationship with yourself. This 
book will change your life even if you never implement a single one of 
the proposals it contains. This book will change you even if you disagree 
with every single idea it puts forward. Even if you put it down right now, 
this book will have changed your life, because now you know that you 
are afraid of change. 

This book is radioactive and painful - it is only incidentally the kind of 
radiation and pain that will cure you. 


Relationships 

There are really only three kinds of relationships in the world. The first 
kind is the one we all dream of- joyous, mutually beneficial, deep, 
meaningful, fun, a real pleasure to have and to hold. 

This kind of relationship is extraordinarily rare. If this kind of 
relationship were an animal, it would not even be on the endangered list. 
It would be by many considered extinct. 

The second kind of relationship is mutually beneficial, but not joyous, 
deep, or meaningful. This is the kind of relationship you have with your 
grocer, your banker, and perhaps your boss. It is voluntary, defined by 
an implicit or explicit contract, and can usually be broken or allowed to 
lapse without guilt, regret or remorse. 

This kind of relationship is not uncommon, but also not very important. 
We do not lose our lives, our happiness or our very souls in the pits of 
these kinds of relationships. They are, as the saying goes, “dry 
calculations of mutual utility.” We are not obligated to go to the 
deathbeds of our bankers; our grocers do not force us to attend church 
when we do not believe; we rarely get into fights with our bosses about 
whether or not we should baptize our children. 


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No, it is the third kind of relationship that we are most concerned with 
in our lives. It is the third kind of relationship that so often tortures us. 

It is the third kind of relationship that undermines our joy, integrity and 
independence. 

The first kind of relationship does not involve obligation, but pleasure. 
There is no need for guilt or manipulation, bullying or control, demands, 
tears or passive-aggression. We do not need obligation to draw us to that 
which gives us pleasure, any more than a child needs to be cajoled into 
eating his candy. 

The second kind of relationship does involve obligation, but it is 
voluntarily chosen, for mutual advantage. We pay our mortgage; the 
bank gives us a house. The relationship is contractual, and thus does not 
need guilt or manipulation. 

It is the third kind of relationship that this book will focus on. 

It is the third kind of relationship that is eating us alive. 


The Third Kind 

The third kind of relationship has three main components. The first is 
that it is not chosen; the second is that it involves obligations, and the 
third is that it is considered moral. 

The first and most important aspect of these kinds of relationships is 
that they are not entered into voluntarily. You are born into them. You 
do not choose your parents. You do not choose your siblings. You do 
not choose your extended family. You do not choose your country. You 
do not choose your culture. You do not choose your government. You 
do not choose your religion. You do not choose your school. You do 
not choose your teachers. 

Sadly, when you are a child, the list is nearly endless. 

You are born into this world without choice, into a familial, social, 
educational, political and geographical environment that is merely 


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accidental. And for the rest of your life, everyone will try to convince 
you that you are responsible for this accident. 

Your parents decided to have a child - you were in no way involved in 
the choice, since you did not as yet exist when the decision was made. 
Even if you were conceived by accident, or adopted, your parents 
decided to keep you. 

Thus your parents’ relationship with you when you were a child was 
essentially contractual, in the same way that when you buy a dog, you’re 
obligated to feed it. Naturally, it is preferable - and certainly possible - 
for your relationship with your parents to be loving, mutually enjoyable, 
respectful and great fun all around. 

But as I said before, this kind of relationship is, sadly, all too rare. 

Entire generations of children have grown up with the idea that the act 
of being born creates an obligation. 

This is entirely false, and one of the most destructive myths of mankind. 

First, I will tell you what is true. Then I will tell you why it is true. Then I 
will tell you how to change. 


What Is True 

It is true that your parents chose to have you. It is true that by making 
that choice, your parents assumed a voluntary obligation towards you. 
That obligation consisted of two main parts: the first was physical, the 
second was moral. 

The physical part of that obligation was clothing, food, medical 
attention, shelter and so on - the base physical requirements. I am not 
going to spend much time on that in this book, since the vast majority of 
parents succeed in providing food and shelter for their children - and 
those who fail in this regard are so obviously deficient that a 
philosophical book is scarcely required to illuminate their shortcomings. 


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The moral obligations that your parents assumed by having you were 
twofold. The first part is more or less understood in society, and consists 
of all the standard virtues such as educating you, keeping you safe, 
refraining from physical or emotional abuse and so on. 

The second part of your parents’ moral obligation towards you is much 
more subtle and corrosive. This is the realm of integrity, and it is a great 
challenge for societies throughout the world. 


Integrity 

Integrity can be defined as consistency between reality, ideas and 
behaviour. Consistency with reality is not telling a child that daddy is 
“sick” when he is in fact drunk. Consistency with behaviour is not 
slapping a child for hitting another child. The value of this kind of 
integrity is also well understood by many, even if imperfectly practiced, 
and we will not deal with it much here either. 

It is consistency with ideas that causes the most problems for families - 
and the most long-term suffering for children throughout their lives. 

When you were a child, you were told over and over that certain actions 
were either good or bad. Telling the truth was good; stealing was bad. 
Hitting your brother was bad; helping your grandmother was good. 
Being on time was good; failing to complete chores was bad. 

Implicit in all these instructions - moral instructions - was the premise 
that your parents knew what was right and what was wrong; what was 
good, and what was bad. 

Do you think that was really true? Do you think that your parents knew 
what was right and wrong when you were a child? 

When we tell a child that something is wrong - not just incorrect, but 
morally wrong - there are really only two possibilities. The first is that we 
actually know what is right and wrong in general, and we are applying our 
universal knowledge of right and wrong to a specific action committed 
by the child. 

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This is how it is always portrayed to the child. It is almost always the 
most dangerous lie in the world. 

The second possibility is that we are telling our child that his actions are 
“wrong” for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with morality 
whatsoever. 

For instance, we might tell a child that stealing is wrong because: 

1. We are embarrassed at our child’s actions. 

2. We are afraid of being judged a poor parent. 

3. We are afraid that our child’s theft will be discovered. 

4. We are simply repeating what was told to us. 

5. We enjoy humiliating our child. 

6. Correcting our child on “ethics” makes us feel morally superior. 

7. We want our child to avoid behaviour that we were punished for 
as children. 

... and so on 

Assuming they are not terrified, most children, on first receiving moral 
instructions, will generally respond by asking "why?” Why is stealing 
wrong? Why is lying wrong? Why is bullying wrong? Why is hitting 
wrong? 

These are all perfectly valid questions, akin to asking why the sky is blue. 
The problem arises in the fact that parents have no rational answers, but 
endlessly pretend that they do. 

When a child asks us why something is wrong, we are put in a terrible 
bind. If we say that we do not know why lying is universally wrong, we 
believe we will lose our moral authority in the eyes of our children. If we 
say that we do know why lying is wrong, then we retain our moral 
authority, but only by lying to our children. 

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Since the fall of religion, we have lost our way in terms of ethics. As an 
atheist, I do not mourn the loss of the illusions of gods and devils, but I 
am alarmed at the fact that we have not yet admitted that the fall of 
religion has not provided us an objective and rational moral compass. By 
failing to admit to the fact that we do not know what we are doing 
ethically, we are perpetrating a grave moral error on our children. 

Basically, we are lying to them about being good. 

We tell them that certain things they do are right or wrong - yet we do 
not tell them that we do not know why those things are right or wrong. If 
our child asks us why lying is wrong, we can say that it causes people 
pain - but so does dentistry - or we can say “you don’t like it when 
someone lies to you” - which would be an incentive to not get caught, 
not to refrain from lying - and so on. Every answer we come up with 
leads to more questions and inconsistencies. What do we do then? 

Why, then, we must bully them. 

This does not mean hitting them or yelling at them - though sadly all too 
often this is the case - because as parents we have a near-infinity of 
passive-aggressive tactics such as sighing, acting exasperated, changing 
the subject, offering them a cookie, taking them for a walk, claiming to 
be “too busy,” distracting or rejecting them in a million and one ways. 

These kinds of innocent questions about morality represent a kind of 
horror for parents. As parents, we must retain our moral authority over 
our children - but as citizens of modernity, we have no rational basis for 
that moral authority. Thus we are forced to lie to our children about 
being good, and about our knowledge of goodness, which transforms 
virtue from a rational discipline into a fearful fairy tale. 

In the past, when religious mythology was dominant, when children 
asked “Where does the world come from?” parents could reply that God 
made it. Despite the superstitious ignorance of those who even now 
make the same claim, most modern parents provide the scientific and 
rational explanation of where the world came from, or at least send their 
children to the Web, an encyclopaedia, or the library. 

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There was a time, though, when the question of where the world came 
from was very difficult to answer. When religious explanations were 
becoming less and less credible, but scientific explanations had not 
become completely established, parents had to say - if they wanted to 
speak with integrity - “I don’t know where the world came from.” 

By openly expressing their lack of certainty, parents not only acted with 
honesty and integrity, but also stimulated their children to pursue a truth 
that was admittedly absent from their world. 

Alas, we suffer similar difficulties today, but about a far more important 
topic. The religious basis for ethics has fallen away from us, and we lack 
any credible or accepted theory to replace it. For a time, patriotism and 
allegiance to culture had some power to convince children that their 
elders knew something objective about ethics, but as government and 
military corruption have become increasingly evident, allegiance to a 
country, a state or a military ethos has become an increasingly fragile 
basis for ethical absolutes. Even our cherished theories about the virtues 
of democracy have come under increasing pressure, as gargantuan 
governments continue to separate themselves from the wishes of their 
citizens and act in a virtual “state of nature.” 

Religious explanations of virtue have failed not just because we no 
longer believe in God, but also because it is now completely self-evident 
that when most people refer to “truth,” they are really referring to culture. 


Culture 

Think about a father in a Muslim country. When his child asks him: 
“Daddy, what is goodness?” he will generally answer: “To obey Allah, 
and obey His Prophet.” Why is that his answer? Is it because he has had 
direct experience with the Prophet, wrote the holy books himself, and 
has a deep understanding of morality direct from the original creator? If 
he had grown up alone on a desert island, would his answer be the same? 

Of course not. He is merely repeating what was told to him as a child. 


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However, there is much more to it than that. 


This Muslim father knows that his child is going to have to survive - and 
hopefully flourish - in a Muslim society. If he tells his child that he does 
not know what is right and wrong, not only will he lose his moral 
authority in the eyes of his child, but he will also be setting his child up 
for endless conflicts with everyone else in his society. 

In other words, if everyone else lies to their children, what are the costs 
- social, romantic, economic and so on - of telling your children the 
truth? 

My neighbour has four lovely children - the other day, his son came and 
showed me a drawing he’d made, a decent representation of Jesus Christ 
sitting on a rock and praying to the heavens. In all innocence, he asked 
me what I thought of the picture. Naturally, I knew that his father had 
told him that Jesus Christ was a real and living man-god who came back 
from the dead, floated up to heaven, and will free him of sin if he 
telepathically communicates his love to this ghost. This is no more or 
less horrifying than any other cult of guilt and control. 

But - what could I say to this child? Could I say that this was a very 
good drawing of a fictional character? Could I tell him that it was an 
excellent representation of a fairy tale? Could I see the pain and surprise 
in his eyes? Could I imagine the conversation that he would later have 
with his father, asking why the nice man next door told him that Jesus 
Christ was a fictional character? Could I imagine the coldness that would 
then descend upon the cordial relations between our two houses? Could 
I imagine his father telling all of his children to stay away from the nice 
man next door, who wants to take God away from them? Could I 
stomach the chilled looks that I would receive every time I saw his 
family for the next few decades..? 

I did take the path of least resistance, but did not lie to the child. I told 
him that I thought the picture was well drawn, and asked him what he 
thought about it. 

Telling the truth is not an easy thing. 

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We can very easily see how parents in other cultures simply repeat 
cultural norms to their children as if those cultural norms were objective 
truth. Japanese parents teach their children obedience and filial piety; 
Catholic parents teach their children to drink the blood of their god; 
Muslim parents teach their children that a man who married a six-year- 
old girl - and consummated that marriage when she was nine - is the 
paragon of moral virtue; Western parents teach their children that 
democracy is the highest ideal; North Korean parents teach their 
children that the dictator who rules their lives is a sort of secular deity 
who loves them. 

The list goes on and on. Virtually every parent in the world believes that 
she is teaching her child the truth, when she is merely inflicting what 
may be politely called cultural mythologies on her child. 

We lie to our children, all the while telling them that lying is wrong. 

We command our children to think for themselves, all the while 
repeating the most prejudicial absurdities as if they were objective facts. 

We tell our children to be good, but we have no idea what goodness 
really is. 

We tell our children that conformity is wrong (“If everyone jumped off 
the Empire State building, would you jump too?”) but at the same time 
we are complete slaves to the historical inertia of prior prejudices. 


Too Harsh? 

I have often been accused of being too harsh on parents. “Parents do 
the best they can under difficult circumstances; you cannot judge the 
practical instructions of parents according to some abstract and absolute 
philosophical standard. My parents were not philosophers - they were 
simply telling me the truth that they believed, that they thought was 
accurate.” 


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The wonderful thing about applying philosophical concepts to our own 
lives is that theories are very easy to test. Discussing a philosophical 
theory about the causes of the decline of the Roman Empire is a largely 
theoretical exercise, since we cannot go back in time and test it. 

Theories about our families, however, are very easy to test, assuming that 
we have access to the relevant family members. 

It is my firm belief that most human beings are absolutely brilliant. I 
have come to this conclusion after decades of studying philosophy and 
having the most amazing conversations with countless people. I am now 
certain that parents know exactly what they are doing - and a relatively 
simple test can prove this to the satisfaction of any rational person. 


A Practical Exercise 

Sit down with your parents and ask them what the capital of Madagascar 
is - or some other piece of trivia that they are unlikely to know. They 
will very likely smile, shake their heads and say, “I don’t know.” They 
will not avoid the question. They will be more than happy to help you 
look it up. It will be a trivial fact-finding interaction. 

After you have established what the capital of Madagascar is, ask them: 
“What is goodness?” 

I absolutely guarantee you that there will be an instant chill in the room 
- there will be an enormous amount of tension, and your parents - and 
probably you - will feel a very strong desire to change the subject, or 
drop the question. 

Why is that? Why is it that when you ask your parents to explain what 
goodness is, the tension in the room spikes dramatically? 

Well, for the same reason that Socrates was introduced to a grim libation 
called hemlock. 

There is terror in the face of the question “What is goodness?” because 
authority figures claim the right to tell us what to do based on their 


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superior knowledge. If we decide to learn karate, we submit ourselves to 
the judgment and instruction of somebody who is an expert in karate. If 
we become ill, we submit our judgment to a doctor, an expert in the 
field. In other words, when we lack knowledge, we defer to those who 
claim greater knowledge. 

Our parents claimed the right to instruct us on good and bad based on 
their great knowledge of ethics, not based on their power as parents. Our 
fathers did not say to us: “Obey me or I will beat you.” Although that 
terrible sentence might have come out of their mouths at some point, 
the basis of their ethics was that we owed them obedience as a just debt, 
and thus could be punished for failing to provide it. “Honour thy father 
and thy mother” is a staple of moral instruction the world over, both 
religious and secular. However, the honour that we are supposed to 
bestow upon our parents must be based upon their superior knowledge 
and practice of virtue - otherwise the word “honour” would make no 
sense. If we were thrown in jail, we would obey the prison guards 
because they held power over us, not because we “honoured” them. If a 
mugger presses a knife to our ribs, we hand him our wallet - obey his 
wishes - not because we honour him, but because he has the power to 
harm us. 

By using the word “honour,” parents are claiming that we owe them 
allegiance due to their superior knowledge and practice of virtue. 

Currently, the foundational “ethic” of the family - the entire basis for 
the authority of adults - is that parents know right from wrong, and 
children do not. Metaphorically, the parents are the doctors, and the 
children are the patients. Parents claim the authority to tell their children 
what to do for the same reason that doctors claim the authority to tell 
their patients what to do - the superior knowledge of the former, and 
the relative ignorance of the latter. 

If you are unwell, and put yourself in the care of a doctor, and follow his 
instructions, but find that you do not get better - but in fact seem to get 
worse - it would be wise to sit down with that doctor and review his 
abilities - particularly if you cannot change physicians for some reason. 

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Since following his instructions is making you worse, you must ask: 

“Why should I follow your instructions?” 

It would be logical to begin by asking the doctor to confirm his actual 
credentials. Then, you might continue by asking what his definition of 
health is, to make sure that you were both on the same page. Then, you 
would continue to drill down to more specific questions about the nature 
of your illness, the nature of his knowledge of the human body, and his 
understanding of your ailments and the methodology by which he came 
up with your cure. 

This is the conversation that you must have with your parents regarding 
the nature of virtue and their knowledge of it. Your parents were the 
moral doctors of your being while you were growing up - if, as an adult, 
you are happy and healthy, full of joy and engaged in deep and 
meaningful relationships, it is still worthwhile to examine the knowledge 
of your parents, since you may have children in time, and will yourself 
become a “doctor” to them. 

If, however, you are not happy and fulfilled as an adult, then it is essential 
that you examine your parents’ ethical knowledge. If your health regimen 
has been established by a quack who has no idea what he is doing, you 
will never be healthy as long as you follow his instructions, since one can 
never randomly arrive at the truth. 

If a madman passes himself off as a doctor, when a patient asks for his 
credentials, he will smile, spread his hands, and say, “Well of course I 
don’t have any!” His openness about his lack of knowledge and 
credentials establishes his relative innocence. 

However, when the patient asks for a doctor’s credentials, if the doctor 
evades the question, or becomes hostile, or dismissive, then clearly the 
“doctor” is fully aware of what he is doing at some level. A man who 
commits a murder in a police station may claim insanity; a man who 
murders in secret and then hides the body has the capacity for 
rationality, if not virtue, and thus cannot claim to be mad. 


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The fact that your parents will do almost anything to avoid the question 
“What is goodness?” is the most revealing piece of knowledge that you 
can possess. It is the fact that blows the cage of culture wide open. It is 
the horrifying knowledge that will set you free. 

You will not just benefit from examining your parents. You can also sit 
down with your priest, and examine him with regards to the nature of 
the existence of God (this is a useful conversation to have with religious 
parents as well). If you are persistent, and do your research in advance, 
you will very quickly discover that your priest also has no certain 
knowledge about the existence of God - and will become very 
uncomfortable and/or aggressive if you persist, which you should. 

Is it wrong for a priest to say that he only believes in God because he 
“has a feeling”? In terms of truth, not exactly - in terms of integrity, 
absolutely. 

The fundamental problem is not that the priest claims the emotional 
irrationality of “faith” as his justification for his belief in God, but rather 
that the existence of God was presented to you as an objective fact, and also that you 
were not allowed the same criteria for “knowledge. " 

These two facets of the falsehoods you were told as a child are essential 
to your liberation as an adult. 


Fiction as Facts 

When you were a child, you did not have the ability to objectively 
validate the commandments of those who had power over you. Your 
susceptibility was a great temptation to those who would rather be 
believed than be right. All power tends to corrupt, and the power that 
parents have over their children is the greatest power in the world. 

A child is biologically predisposed to trust and obey his parents - this 
has great utility, insofar as parents will often tell their children not to eat 
poisonous berries, pull hot frying pans off the stove, or run around all 


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day outside without sunscreen on. The requirements of survival tend to 
discourage endless “trial and error.” 

When parents instruct their children, they can either present that 
instruction as conditional, or absolute. Conditional instructions - do not 
hit your brother except in self-defence - tend to lead to endless 
additional questions, and quickly reveal the parents’ lack of knowledge. 
As the child continues to ask what exactly defines self-defence, whether 
pre-emptive strikes are allowable, whether teasing can be considered 
aggression and so on, the fuzzy areas innate to all systems of ethics 
quickly come into view. 

As these fuzzy areas become clearer, parents fear once more the loss of 
moral authority. However, the fact that certain areas of ethics are harder 
to define than others does not mean that ethics as a whole is a purely 
subjective discipline. In biology, the classification of very similar species 
tends to be fuzzy as well - at least before the discovery of DNA - but 
that does not mean that biology is a purely subjective science. Water can 
never be perfectly pure, but that does not mean that bottled water is 
indistinguishable from seawater. 

Due to their desire for simple and absolute moral commandments, 
parents spend enormous amounts of energy continually herding their 
children away from the “cliff edges” of ethical complexities. They deploy 
a wide variety of distractive and abusive tactics to achieve this end - and 
all these tactics are designed to convince the child that his parents 
possess absolute knowledge of ethical matters. 

However, as children grow - particularly into the teenage years - a 
certain danger begins to arise. The children, formerly compliant (at least 
from the “terrible twos” through the latency period) begin to suspect 
that their parents’ “knowledge” is little more than a form of hypocritical 
bullying. They begin to see the true conformity of their parents with 
regards to culture, and really begin to understand that what was 
presented to them as objective fact was in reality subjective opinion. 


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This causes great confusion and resentment, because teenagers 
instinctually grasp the true corruption of their parents. 

A counterfeiter necessarily respects the value of real money, since he 
does not spend his time and energies creating exact replicas of 
Monopoly banknotes. The counterfeiter wishes to accurately reproduce 
real money because he knows that real money has value - he wishes his 
reproduction to be as accurate as possible because he knows that his 
fake money does not have value. 

Similarly, parents present their opinions as facts because they know that 
objective facts have more power and validity than mere opinion. A 
“doctor” who fakes his own credentials does so because he knows 
credentials have the power to create credibility. 

Recognizing the power of truth - and using that power to reinforce lies 
- is abominably corrupt. A man who presents his opinions as facts does 
so because he recognizes the value of facts. Using the credibility of 
“truth” to make falsehoods more plausible simultaneously affirms and 
denies the value of honesty and integrity. It is a fundamental logical 
contradiction in theory, and almost unbearably hypocritical in practice. 

Thus it always happens that when grown children begin to examine their 
elders, they rapidly discover that those elders do not in fact know what 
they claimed to know - but knew enough about the value of the truth to 
present their subjective opinions as objective knowledge. This 
hypocritical crime far outstrips the abuses of mere counterfeiting, or the 
faking of credentials, because adults can protect themselves against false 
currency and fake diplomas. 

Children have no such defences. 


Do As I Say, Not As I Do. . . 

The second major hypocrisy involved in presenting subjective opinion as 
absolute fact is that parents reserve this power only for themselves - and 
self-righteously punish children for doing exactly the same thing. 


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Take the question of going to church. Religious parents tell their 
children that they must go to church. When the children ask why, they 
are told, “Because God exists, and He loves you,” or other such 
nonsense. In other words, parents command their children with 
reference to objective absolutes. Children are absolutely not allowed to 
say, “I don’t want to go to church because I don’t feel like it.” 

Fast-forward a decade or so. The child - now a teenager - sits down 
with his parents and asks: “Why do you believe in God?” 

If he is persistent and knowledgeable, he will quickly corner his parents 
into admitting that they believe in God because of “faith.” In other 
words, they have no proof that God exists, but believe in God because 
they feel like it - since no matter how emotionally compelling faith is, it 
remains in essence a feeling that contradicts reason and evidence. 

However, when that teenager was a child, he was never allowed to make 
decisions because he just felt like it. He was not allowed to stay home 
from church because he didn’t feel like going. He was always sent to 
school despite his preference for staying home at times. His feelings did 
not create truth, or establish objectively valid criteria for action. 

When he used exactly the same methodology that his parents used, he was called 
disobedient, wrong, sinful, wilful, immoral, stubborn and a thousand 
other pejoratives. For his parents, acting on the primacy of feeling is 
praised as an absolute and objective virtue. For him, acting on the 
primacy of feeling is condemned as an absolute and objective vice. 

Conformity 

As the child grows up, his tendency to want to “merge with the herd” is 
criticized as an immoral weakness. Any susceptibility to fashion trends, 
linguistic tics, prized possessions, general sexual habits or any other form 
of “groupthink” is opposed by his parents on supposedly objective and 
moral grounds. 


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Again - generally in the teenage years - the child begins to realize that 
his parents do not actually oppose groupthink or conformity on principle, 
but only attack competing conformities. If a son begins to run with a wild 
gang, his parents will criticize him on the grounds of conformity, but it is 
not conformity that they object to, but conformity with a gang they 
disapprove of, rather than with a group they approve of. 

And it gets even worse than that. 

The reason that the parents dislike the child’s new gang is because the 
parents fear disapproval from their own gang. If the son of religious 
parents starts hanging out with a group of atheists, his parents will 
criticize him for his mindless conformity, and pointless rebellion - but 
only because they fear being attacked, criticized or undermined by their 
own religious peers. In other words, they effectively tell their son: “You 
should not be susceptible to the disapproval of your peers, because we 
are susceptible to the disapproval of our peers.” 


Is Ignorance Hypocrisy? 

The argument is often made that parents are not aware of all the 
complexities of their own hypocrisies, and thus are not morally 
responsible for their inconsistencies. 

Fortunately, there is no need for us to rely on mere theory to establish 
the truth of this proposition. 

If I tell you to take Highway 101 to get to your destination, and it turns 
out that this takes you in the exact opposite direction, what would be a 
rational response if I were truly ignorant of the fact that I was giving you 
really bad directions? 

Well, I would first insist that they were the correct directions, since I 
genuinely believe that they are. However, when you sat me down with a 
map and pointed out exactly why my directions were so bad, I would see 
the truth, apologize profusely, and openly promise never to give out bad 


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directions again - and buy a whole bunch of maps to boot, and spend 
some significant amount of time studying them. 

However, if I got angry the moment that you brought up that I had sent 
you in the wrong direction, and refused to look at any maps, and refused 
to admit that I was wrong, and kept changing the subject, and kept 
distracting you with emotional tricks, and got more and more upset, and 
refused to tell you how I came up with my directions - and ended up 
storming out of the room, you may be unsure of many things, but you 
would not be unsure of one thing at least. 

You would no longer imagine that I was ever interested in giving good 
directions. 

In the realm of the parent-child relationship, this realization comes as a 
profound and terrible shock. This realization lands like a nuclear blast 
over a shantytown, radiating out in waves of destruction, smashing down 
the assumptions you have about all of your existing relationships. 

The moment you realize that your parents, priests, teachers, politicians - 
your elders in general - only used morality to control you, to subjugate 
you - as a tool of abuse - your life will never be the same again. 

The terrifying fact that your elders knew the power of virtue, but used 
that power to control, corrupt, bully and exploit you, reveals the genuine 
sadism that lies at the core of culture - it reveals the awful “cult” in 
culture. 

A doctor who fakes his credentials is bad enough - how would any sane 
person judge a doctor who studies the human body not to heal it, but to 
more effectively cause pain? 

A fraud is still better than a sadist. 

What can we say, then, about parents and other authority figures who 
know all there is to know about the power and effectiveness of using 
moral arguments to control the actions and thoughts of children - who 


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respect the power of virtue - and then use that power to destroy any 
capacity for moral integrity in their children? 

In movies, terrorists almost invariably kidnap the wife or child of the 
hero in order to enforce his compliance with their wishes. His virtues - 
love and loyalty - are thus turned into the service of evil. The better he 
is, the worse he must act. The more he loves virtue, the more he is 
controlled by evil. 

And thus do the best become the worst. 

And thus are children raised. 

And this was your instruction. 


Reluctance 

We instinctively shy away from confronting the moral void at the core of 
our relationships - and, fundamentally, the moral void at the core of our 
relationship with ourselves. 

There is a simple and terrible reason for our reluctance to confront this 
emptiness. 

Societies are generally built upon mythologies - in fact, a society can be 
accurately defined as a group of people who all share the same 
mythology. 

I use the term “mythology” here because I want to ease you into the idea 
of social fictions, and the degree to which they distort your relationship 
to yourself and others - and thus your relationship to reality. 

There are two major disciplines, which help us dispel the corrosive 
cobwebs of social fictions and reach through them to grasp reality. The 
first is theoretical; the second is practical. 

The first discipline is logic, which is the process of organizing our 
thoughts in a systematic and non-contradictory manner. The second is 


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science, which is the testing of logical theories against empirical 
observations. The union of these two disciplines is philosophy, which is in 
its fundamentals the testing of theories of knowledge against both logic 
and empirical observation. 

Logic will tell you that two plus two equals four; science will verify that 
placing two rocks next to two other rocks will result in an aggregation of 
four rocks. 

But it is philosophy that tells us that logic plus empirical testability are both 
key requirements to the establishment of the truth. It is philosophy that 
specifically rejects the primacy of faith, or the primacy of emotion, or the 
primacy of authority, or the primacy of age, or the primacy of 
preference, or the primacy of biology - or any of the other foolish and 
exploitive mechanisms that human beings have used as substitutes for 
logic and evidence in order to inflict “truth” on the helpless. 

Philosophy is the opposite of mythology. Or, more accurately, truth is the 
opposite of falsehood. 

We are, all of us, deeply aware of the deficiencies of our beliefs. The 
basic knowledge that our beliefs are mere prejudices, inflicted on us by 
parents and teachers, is a fact that, deep down, we are all perfectly aware 
of. The amount of energy that we all put into pretending otherwise is 
staggering, and debilitating. There is a reason that depression is one of 
the most prevalent forms of illness. 

The contradiction at the core of social mythology is that these cultural 
falsehoods are always presented as objective and absolute truths. 

Americans, for instance, are famously proud of their country, and the 
beliefs that they have inherited from the Enlightenment philosophers 
and the Founding Fathers. This is a very strange notion when you 
examine it. 

The average American just happened to be born in America - it is a 
mere accident, not something earned. The average American takes pride 
in his cultural heritage, which he did not invent, and which was taught to 


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him by others, who also did not invent it. Believing that you are virtuous 
because you were bom in a particular country is like believing that you 
are an excellent businessman because you inherited a lot of money, or 
that you are a good person because you happen to be tall. 

The average American has no idea of the philosophical premises 
underpinning the ideal of a constitutionally limited government. The 
average American enthusiastically supports a government that is 
hundreds of times more oppressive and brutal than the British 
government from which his ancestors fought to free themselves. The 
average American enthusiastically celebrates Independence Day, despite 
the fact that, when his country was founded, slavery was protected, and 
basic rights for women and children were denied. 

In other words, the average American blindly praises his own culture and 
history because he is taught to praise it, not because he has any rational 
understanding of its actual merits and deficiencies. 

This is not to say that America is not a better country than, for instance, 
Syria. It is, and I am glad not to be living in Syria. However, the 
methodology for transmitting value from parent to child remains the 
same in both countries. The genuine values in America arose from 
rational thought and breaking with tradition, not from blind allegiance to 
dirt and cloth. 

The average American considers himself superior to the average Muslim, 
because he believes to some degree in the separation of church and state, 
supports limited democracy and the rights of women, and respects 
certain aspects of the free market. He believes that these are good values 
to hold, and criticizes Muslims for not holding the same values. 

The sad fact is that while specific beliefs vary from culture to culture, the 
methodology of belief in all cultures is identical. The simple fact is that if 
the average American had been bom to Muslim parents in Syria, he 
would be exactly the same as the average Syrian Muslim. He would be no more 
likely to value the separation of church and state than the average 
Western woman born in Manhattan would be likely to wear a burka. 


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Patriotism is the hijacking of the achievements of others - usually 
ancestors - and taking ego gratification in them as if they were one’s 
own. This involves a curious distortion of logic that is blindingly obvious 
when seen. 

Either someone is a good person because he was born in America, or 
because he conforms to objective standards of goodness. You either like 
a car because it is a Buick, or Buicks are good cars because they get 
excellent mileage. 

If someone is good because he was bom in America, then clearly he 
cannot judge a man bom in Saudi Arabia as deficient in any way, either 
morally or culturally. The essence of aristocracy - the eternal plague of 
mankind - is the belief that we are “born into” superiority; that our 
“excellence” is somehow innate. However, if an American is “superior” 
to a Saudi, then that superiority is not earned. If Bob were born in Saudi 
Arabia rather than America, he would be an “inferior” Muslim rather 
than a “superior” Christian or American. Thus Bob’s superiority - or 
lack thereof - has nothing to do with his personal choices, but is rather 
defined by the accidents of geography and birth. Either Bob claims to be 
better due to geography, which is impossible - or due to his own 
personal virtue, in which case geography has nothing to do with it. 

Both Americans and Muslims are simply reproducing what they are told 
- what is inflicted on them through emotional punishments when they 
are children - and calling it “morality.” This is exactly the same as a child 
who is force-fed, who then calls being overweight “moral,” while the 
child next door is underfed, and then calls being skinny “moral.” Sports 
fans are the same way - the closest franchise is just somehow the “best.” 

Basically, culture is the compulsion to call whatever surrounds you 
“moral.” If you live in the mountains, it is moral to live in the 
mountains. If you were taught to swim, then swimming is moral. If you 
were not taught to swim, then swimming is immoral. If you were taught 
to cover your legs, then baring your legs is “immodest.” If you were 
taught to uncover your legs, then covering them up is “prudish.” If you 


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were taught to fold the flag a certain way, then folding the flag any other 
way is “disrespectful.” 

When I was six, I was sent to an English boarding school. One of the 
rules there was that I was had to wear garters around my socks to keep 
them up, especially in church. I was told in no uncertain terms that if I 
entered the church without my garters on, I was being “disrespectful to 
God.” This didn’t make much sense to me; I argued that God made my 
legs, and men made garters, and I was sure that God would appreciate 
looking at his own creation rather than something that men made. 

Naturally, my objections were also framed as immoral talkback - I was 
being “disrespectful” to the headmaster. 

I am sure you get the idea. 

Everything that surrounds you is framed in terms of ethics, because 
framing things in terms of ethics works. If you can get a child to believe 
that something is right or wrong, you control that child’s mind, his body, 
his allegiance, his very being. Moral arguments have a power that is 
unmatched in any other form of human interaction. In terms of social 
control, moral arguments are the ultimate WMDs. 


Susceptibility 

As children, we are highly susceptible to moral arguments because we so 
desperately want to be good, and because we know that “morality” is 
synonymous with praise, while “immorality” is synonymous with 
punishment. When our parents, priests and teachers tell us that 
something is “good,” what they are really saying is: “You will not be 
punished for this - and you may even be rewarded!” Conversely, when 
we are told that something is “bad,” what we are really being told is that 
we will be punished for doing - or even contemplating - whatever it is. 

We are not punished for being bad. “Being bad” is invented so that we 
may be “justly” punished. 


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Those in authority are continually driven to hide their perpetual use of 
power over their victims. Our teachers do not like to openly tell us that 
they will hurt us if we disobey them, because that is too naked a display 
of abusive power. 

It is also a highly inefficient form of control. 

If your teacher were to say, “If you lie to me, I will punish you” - and 
just left it at that, then lying would always be more or less a calculated 
risk - and being punished for lying would have no more moral 
significance than being fouled while playing basketball. If a teacher is 
facing a class of 30 students, each of whom is calculating whether or not 
he can get away with a lie, then clearly, as more of them lie, each lie 
becomes that much harder to catch, just as it is harder to figure out 
exactly who is talking when 20 children are chatting rather than just two. 

Furthermore, if a parent openly uses brute force to compel compliance 
from a child, then the pattern-making centers in our brains will 
immediately extract a principle out of that interaction. Within our minds, 
every decision and interaction is involuntarily extrapolated into a 
principle. If our parents compel our compliance with brute force, then 
the principle that we extract from that interaction is: “Whoever has the 
power should use it abusively to control everyone else.” Or: “Whoever 
has the most power should inflict his will on whoever has the least 
power.” 

Due to the natural decay of organic life, this is a rather dangerous 
principle for parents to establish. If we think of a single mother raising 
two boys, we can easily see that creating a principle called “brute force 
rules” - while perhaps having a certain practical utility when they are 
young - will scarcely serve her well when her boys hit their teenage 
years, and become physically far stronger than she is. Even fathers will 
reach dotage and physical weakness relative to their sons, and thus will 
scarcely benefit from applying the principle of “whoever has the most 
power should forcefully subjugate whoever has the least power.” 


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Thus the use of force must be forever shrouded in the fog of “ethics.” 
This is a very tricky business logically, because what is required is a 
simultaneous appeal to both a principle, and a person - which is directly 
contradictory. 


The Contradictory Appeal 

When your father says, “Honour thy father and thy mother,” he is 
invoking both a principle and a person. The principle is that all mothers and 
fathers are honourable, and so deserving of respect. The person that he is 
invoking is himself and your mother specifically - thy mother and father. 

Logically, this makes no sense. 

Saying, “Honour thy father and thy mother,” is like saying, “Honour all 
the women who are my wife.” If I must honour all women, then I will 
automatically honour your wife, since she is a woman. If I must honour 
your wife, then there is no point saying that I must honour her as a 
woman, because that would involve honouring all women again. It’ s one 
or the other. 

If you must honour the category “father” and “mother,” then you must 
respect all mothers and fathers equally. Showing preference for your own 
parents would be unjust. 

If you must show preference for your own mother and father, then the 
category of “mother” and “father” is irrelevant. It must be for some 
other reason, then, that you should honour these particular individuals. 

If you should bestow honour upon your mother and father as individuals, 
and for no objective principle, then what is really being demanded is not 
honour, but obedience towards individuals in the guise of honour as a 
principle. 

This basic logical contradiction, while complicated to discuss 
syllogistically, is something that every child instinctually understands. 
When our mother demands that we respect her, do we not feel 
contempt, frustration and despair? Demanding respect is like demanding 
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love, or hijacking an aircraft. It is commanding a destination, rather than 
respecting the free choices of individuals. 

We cannot imagine someone hijacking an aircraft on its way to 
Vladivostok and demanding, “Take me to Vladivostok!” People hijack 
planes because the plane is not going where they want to go. 


Efficient Control 

If, however, through intimidation, the distinction between the principle 
and the person can be blurred and buried, a far more efficient mechanism 
of control is achieved. If a child - or a citizen - can be taught to obey a 
person as if that person were a universal principle, the foundations of 
hegemonic dictatorship, whether in the family, the church, the school or 
the state, are firmly established. If a child’s mind can be taught to obey 
the whims of an individual to the same degree that the child’s body obeys 
the absolutes of gravity, then near-perfect control can be established. 

Of course, this control incurs a terrible cost - and a terrible risk. The 
cost accrues to both the parent and the child, as is the case in all corrupt 
interactions. By using false and inconsistent principles to teach the child 
to obey a person rather than a principle, the child’s ability to extract 
principles from interactions is crippled. Such children inevitably grow up 
to repeat destructive patterns in relationships, seemingly without any 
ability to learn from their mistakes. How could they leam from their 
mistakes? They have been taught as a principle to obey individuals - how 
can they then conceivably extract generalized principles from the 
behaviour of those individuals ? That would be like hoping that water will 
flow uphill. Expecting such people to extract productive principles from 
their interactions with others is like expecting a medieval monk who 
believes that the world follows the whims of the gods to discover the 
theory of relativity - or even the scientific method itself. 

For the parents, the cost is a perpetual and growing fear of the 
intelligence and perceptiveness of their children, which manifests in a 
variety of ways, such as genial blankness, corrosive contempt, yawning 
indifference or fussy irritability. 

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For our parents - and our elders in general - the modern world has 
virtually guaranteed that the gig is up. 

The antidote to false morality is a multiplicity of false moralities. The 
antidote to irrational prejudice is more irrational prejudices. 

It is by being able to see the world as a whole that we can finally set 
ourselves free. 


Detonating Mythology 

If we were only ever exposed to English, we would not think of it as 
“English,” just as “language.” The need to differentiate English as a 
language only arises when we come into contact with other languages. 

Similarly, if we are only exposed to our own mythologies, we do not 
think of them as mythologies, but rather as the truth. If we only know our 
own god, then we can refer to this fiction as “God” - this is a universe 
away from saying “a god,” - or, more accurately “our god.” 

Deep down, each of us knows that our faith in our fragile fairy tales can 
only be sustained if we constantly steer clear of competing fairy tales. 
This tends to cripple our capacity for empathy - we must in our hearts 
ridicule the foolish beliefs of other cultures, and never take the terrifying 
leap of trying to see our own culture through their eyes. 

The fear and hatred that so often mars the relations between different 
cultural groups does not arise out of ignorance, but rather out of 
knowledge. Christians feel uneasy around Muslims - and Muslims feel 
uneasy around Christians - not because they are different, but because 
they are the same. Two adulterous women who know each others’ 
secrets will, if forced to sit together for lunch, have a very uncomfortable 
time - not because they know too little about each other, but rather 
because they know too much. 

The only way that mythology can sustainably dominate generation after 
generation is by pretending that it is not mythology, but reality. 


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To help clarify this, consider the following thought experiment. 

Imagine that the water in a sink has consciousness, and is sentient. Now 
imagine that I pour this water into a variety of glass containers, each of a 
different shape. The water, since it is sentient, would doubtless 
congratulate itself on its individuality. Since it would be unable to see the 
glass that surrounded it, contained it, and shaped its very form, it would 
honestly believe that its true physical shape was a mug, jar, test tube, or 
martini glass. 

The sentient water filling the test tube would look at all the funny glass 
shapes around it and be enormously amused. “Do they not know how 
ridiculous they seem from the outside? Can they really imagine that that 
is their true shape? It’s madness!” it would chortle, pressed up against 
the glass of its own conceptual prison. And the water in the martini glass 
would look at all the other containers - including the test tube - and say 
exactly the same thing. 

And this, really, is the state of all of the different cultures around the 
world. Each of us is poured into a clear glass container, which we believe 
represents the truth, which provides us with a shape and an identity that 
we mistake for “human nature.” And this can work relatively well - at 
least until we begin to catch sight of all the other glass containers 
surrounding us. 

For a time, we will endeavour to maintain the illusion that only other water 
is contained in an obvious glass container - not us! However, there are 
those among us who can break free from the glass cage of culture - we 
stand outside such containers, and from our vantage point, the 
differences in the sizes and shapes of the containers are practically 
irrelevant. 

The size and shape of your prison is not important. The fact that you are 
in a prison is. 

The knowledge that you are in a prison does not have to be learned. It 
only has to be accepted. It is not something that you do not know. At a 


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very deep level, you are perfectly aware that what you call the truth is just 
the magical physics of invisible fairy tales. 

How do I know this? 

As with every idea in this book, there is no need to take my word for 
anything. You can easily discover your deep understanding of this fact 
with a few simple experiments. 

As I have mentioned before, you can sit down with your parents and ask 
them about goodness. You can sit down with your friends and tell them 
that you are afraid that you are living in a fiction that is sapping your joy 
and independence. You can go to a mosque and ask if you can observe. 
You can put yourself in someone else’s “glass container” and see how 
you feel. 

Try it. Close your eyes for a moment and imagine sitting down with your 
parents to ask them about goodness, or having a drink with your friends 
and talking about social mythologies. Do you feel nervous? Do you feel a 
vague and uneasy fluttering in your stomach at the very thought of such 
honesty and curiosity? 

Why? Why do you feel afraid? Why have you never asked such 
questions? Who told you that such questions were not allowed? Were 
you ever punished for asking these questions in the past? Is there any law 
against asking such questions? 

What will happen when you ask such questions? 

You already know the answer. That is why you are afraid. 

It is not cowardice that makes you afraid. It is wisdom that makes you 
afraid. 

Because you have every reason to be afraid. 


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Mythological Love 

Our whole lives, we are surrounded by people who claim to love us. Our 
parents perpetually claim to be motivated by what is best for us. Our 
teachers eternally proclaim that their sole motivation is to help us learn. 
Our priests voice concern for our eternal souls, and extended family 
members endlessly announce their devotion to the clan. 

When people claim to love us, it is not unreasonable to expect that they 
know us. If you tell me that you love Thailand, but it turns out that you 
have never been there, and know very little about it, then it is hard for 
me to believe that you really love it. If I say that I love opera, but I never 
listen to opera - well, you get the general idea! 

If I say that I love you, but I know little about your real thoughts and 
feelings, and have no idea what your true values are - or perhaps even 
what your favourite books, authors or movies are - then it should 
logically be very hard for you to believe me. 

This is certainly the case in my family. My mother, brother and father 
made extravagant claims about their love for me. However, when I 
finally sat down and asked each of them to recount a few facts about me 
- some of my preferences and values - I got a perfect tripod of 
“thousand yard stares.” 

So, I thought, if people who know almost nothing about me claim to love me, then 
either they are lying, or I do net understand love at all. 

I will not go into details about my theories of love here, other than to say 
that, in my view, love is our involuntary response to virtue, just as well- 
being is our involuntary response to a healthy lifestyle. (Our affection for 
our babies is more attachment than mature love, since it is shared 
throughout the animal kingdom.) 

Virtue is a complicated subject, but I am sure we can agree that virtue 
must involve some basics that are commonly understood, such as 
courage, integrity, benevolence, empathy, wisdom and so on. 


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If this is the case, it cannot be possible to love people that we know very 
little about. If love requires virtue, then we cannot love perfect strangers, 
because we know nothing about their virtues. Love depends both on 
another person’s virtue, and our knowledge of it - and it grows in 
proportion to that virtue and knowledge, if we are virtuous ourselves. 

Throughout my childhood, whenever I expressed a personal thought, 
desire, wish, preference or feeling, I was generally met with eye rolling, 
incomprehension, avoidance or, all too often, outright scorn. These 
various “rejection tactics” were completely co-joined with expressions of 
love and devotion. When I started getting into philosophy - through the 
works of Ayn Rand originally - my growing love of wisdom was 
dismissed out of hand as some sort of psychological dysfunction. 

Since my family knew precious little about my virtues - and what they 
did know they disliked - then we could not all be virtuous. If they were 
virtuous, and disliked my values, then my values could not be virtuous. If 
I was virtuous, and they disliked my values, then they could not be 
virtuous. 

And so I set about trying to create an “ethical map” of my family. 

It was the most frightening thing I have ever done. The amount of 
emotional resistance that I felt towards the idea of trying to rationally 
and morally understand my family was staggering - it literally felt as if I 
were sprinting directly off a cliff. 

Why was it so terrifying? 

Well, because I knew that they were lying. I knew that they were lying 
about loving me, and I knew that, by claiming to be confused about 
whether they loved me, I was lying as well - and to myself, which is the 
worst of all falsehoods. 


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Love: The Word versus the Deed 


Saying the word “success” is far easier than actually achieving success. 
Mouthing the word “love” is far easier than actually loving someone for 
the right reasons - and being loved for the right reasons. 

If we do not have any standards for being loved, then laziness and 
indifference will inevitably result. If I have a job where I work from 
home, and no one ever checks up on me, and I never have to produce 
anything, and I get paid no matter what, and I cannot get fired, how long 
will it be before my work ethic decays? Days? Weeks? Certainly not 
months. 

One of the most important questions to ask in any examination of the 
truth is “compared to what?” For instance, if I say I love you, implicit in 
that statement is a preference for you over others. In other words, 
compared to others, I prefer you. We prefer honesty compared to 
falsehood, satiation to hunger, warmth to cold and so on. 

It is not logically valid to equate the word “love” with “family.” The 
word “family” is a mere description of a biological commonality - it 
makes no more sense to equate “love” with “family” than it does to 
equate “love” with “mammal.” Thus the word “love” must mean a 
preference compared to - what? 

It is impossible to have any standards for love if we do not have any 
standards for truth. Since being honest is better than lying, and courage 
is better than cowardice, and truth is better than falsehood, we cannot 
have honesty and courage unless we are standing for something that is 
true. Thus when we say that we “love” someone, what we really mean is 
that his actions are consistent, compared to a rational standard of virtue. 
In the same way, when I say that somebody is “healthy,” what I really 
mean is that his organs are functioning consistently, relative to a rational 
standard of well-being. 

Thus love is not a subjective preference, or a biological commonality, 
but our involuntary response to virtuous actions on the part of another. 


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If we truly understand this definition, then it is easy for us to see that a 
society that does not know truth cannot ever know love. 

If nothing is true, virtue is impossible. 

If virtue is impossible, then we are forced to pretend to be virtuous, 
through patriotism, clan loyalties, cultural pride, superstitious 
conformities and other such amoral counterfeits. 

If virtue is impossible, then love is impossible, because actions cannot be 
compared to any objective standard of goodness. If love is impossible, 
we are forced to resort to sentimentality, or the shallow show and 
outward appearance of love. 

Thus it can be seen that any set of principles that interferes with our 
ability to know and understand the truth hollows us out, undermining 
and destroying our capacity for love. False principles, illusions, fantasies 
and mythologies separate us from each other, from virtue, from love, 
from the true connections that we can achieve only through reality. 

In fantasy, there is only isolation and pretence. Mythology is, 
fundamentally, loneliness and emptiness. 


Imagination versus Fantasy 

At this point, I think it would be well worth highlighting the differences 
between imagination and fantasy, because many people, on hearing my 
criticisms of mythology, think that they are now not supposed to enjoy 
Star Wars. 

Imagination is a creative faculty that is deeply rooted in reality. Fantasy, 
on the other hand, is a mere species of intangible wish fulfillment. It 
took Tolkien decades of study and writing to produce “The Lord of the 
Rings” - and each part of that novel was rationally consistent with the 
whole. That is an example of imagination. If I laze about daydreaming 
that one day I will make a fortune by writing a better novel than “The 
Lord of the Rings” - but never actually set pen to paper - that is an 


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example of fantasy. Imagination produced the theory of relativity, not 
fantasizing about someday winning a Nobel Prize. 

Daydreams that are never converted into action are the ultimate 
procrastination. Imagining a wonderful future that you never have to act 
to achieve prevents you from achieving a wonderful future. 

In the same way, imagining that you know the truth when you do not 
prevents you from ever learning the truth. Nothing is more dangerous 
than the illusion of knowledge. If you are going the wrong way, but do 
not doubt your direction, you will never turn around. 

As Socrates noted more than 2,000 years ago, doubt is the midwife of 
curiosity, and curiosity breeds wisdom. 

Fantasy is the opposite of doubt. Mythology provides instant answers 
when people do not even know what the questions are. In the Middle 
Ages, when someone asked “Where did the world come from?” he was 
told: “God made it.” This effectively precluded the necessity of asking 
the more relevant question: “What is the world?” 

Because religious people believed they knew where the world came 
from, there was little point asking what the world was. Because there was 
little point asking what the world was, they never learned where the 
world came from. 

Fantasy is a circle of nothingness, forever eating its own tail. 


Defining Love 

If people fantasize that they know what is true, then they inevitably stop 
searching for the truth. If I am driving home, I stop driving when I get 
there. If people fantasize that they know what goodness is, they 
inevitably stop trying to understand goodness. 

And, most importantly, if people fantasize that they already are good, 
they stop trying to become good. If you want a baby, and you believe that 
you are pregnant, you stop trying to get pregnant. 


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The question - which we already know the answer to - thus remains: why 
do people who claim to love us never tell us what love is? 

If I am an accomplished mathematician, and my child comes to me and 
asks me about the times tables, it would be rude and churlish of me to 
dismiss his questions. If I go to my mother, who for 30 years has 
claimed to love me, and ask her what love is, why is it that she refuses to 
answer my question? Why does my brother roll his eyes and change the 
subject whenever I ask him what it is that he loves about me? Why does 
my father claim to love me, while continually rejecting everything that I 
hold precious? 

Why does everyone around me perpetually use words that they refuse to 
define? Are they full of a knowledge that they cannot express? That is 
not a good reason for refusing to discuss the topics. A novelist who 
writes instinctually would not logically be hostile if asked about the 
source of his inspiration. He may not come up with a perfect answer, but 
there would be no reason to perpetually avoid the subject. 

Unless... 

Unless, of course, he is a plagiarist. 


What We Know 

This is the knowledge that we have, but hate and fear. 

We know that the people who claim to love us know precious little 
about us, and nothing at all about love. 

We know that the people who claim to love us make this claim in order 
to create obligations within us. 

We know that the people who claim to love us make this claim in order 
to control us. 

And they know it too. 


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It is completely obvious that they know this, because they know exactly 
which topics to avoid. A counterfeiter will not mind if you ask him what the 
capital of Madagascar is. A counterfeiter will mind, however, if you ask 
him whether you can check the authenticity of his money. Why is this 
the one topic that he will try to avoid at all costs? 

Because he knows that his currency is fake. 

And he also knows that if you find that out, he can no longer use it to rob 
you blind. 


Obligations 

If I own a store, and take counterfeit money from a con man, but do not 
know that it is counterfeit, then I am obligated to hand over what he has 
“bought.” 

In the same way, if I believe that I am loved - even when I am not loved 
- 1 am to a degree honour-bound to return that love. If my mother says 
that she loves me, and she is virtuous, then she must love me because I 
am virtuous. Since she is herself virtuous, then I “owe” her love as a 
matter of justice, just as I owe trust to someone who consistently 
behaves in a trustworthy manner. 

Thus when somebody tries to convince you that they love you, they’re 
actually attempting to create an obligation in you. If I try to convince you that I 
am a trustworthy person, it is because I want all the benefits of being 
treated as if I were a trustworthy person. If I am in fact a trustworthy 
person, then I must understand the nature of trust - at least at some 
level - and thus I must know that it cannot be demanded, but must be 
earned. Since earning trust is harder than just demanding trust, I must know 
the real value of trust, otherwise I would not have taken the trouble to 
earn it through consistent behaviour - I would have just demanded it 
and skipped all the hard stuff! 


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If you demand trust, you are demanding the unearned, which indicates 
that you do not believe you can earn it. Thus anyone who demands trust 
is automatically untrustworthy. 

Why do people demand trust? 

To rob others. 

If I want to borrow money from you, and I demand that you trust me, 
it’s because I am not trustworthy, and will be unlikely to pay you back. 

In other words, I want to steal your money, and put you in my power. 

It’s the same with love. 


Love and Virtue 

If I am virtuous, then virtuous people will regard me with at least 
respect, if not love. Corrupt or evil people may regard me with a certain 
respect, but they will certainly not love me. 

Thus being virtuous and refusing to demand love from anyone is the 
best way to find other virtuous people. If you are virtuous and 
undemanding, then other virtuous people will naturally gravitate towards 
you. Virtue that does not impose itself on others is like a magnet for 
goodness, and repels corruption. 

The practical result of true virtue is fundamental self-protection. 

If my stockbroker consistently gets me 30% return on my investments, is 
there any amount of money that I will not give him, other than what I 
need to live? Of course not! Because I know I will always get back more 
than I give. 

It’s the same with real love. 

If I am virtuous, then I will inevitably feel positively inclined towards 
other virtuous people - and the more virtuous they are, the more I will 
love them. My energy, time and resources will be at their disposal, 
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because I know that I will not be exploited, and that they will reciprocate 
my generosity. 

If you and I have lent money to each other over the years, and have 
always paid each other back, then the next time you come to me for a 
loan, it would be unjust for me to tell you that I will not lend you 
anything because I do not think you will pay me back. Your continued 
and peipetual honesty towards me in financial matters has created an 
obligation in me towards you. This does not mean that I must lend you 
money whenever you ask for it, but I cannot justly claim as my reason 
for not lending you money a belief that you will not pay me back. 

In the same way, if you have been my wife for 20 years, and I have never 
been unfaithful, if a woman calls and then hangs up, it would be unjust 
for you to immediately accuse me of infidelity. 

A central tactic for creating artificial and unjust obligations in others is to 
demand their positive opinion, without being willing to earn it. The most 
effective way to do this is to offer a positive opinion, which has not been 
earned - to claim to love others. 

If, over the past 20 years, I have rarely paid back any money I have 
borrowed from you, it is perfectly reasonable to refuse me an additional 
loan. I may then get angry, and call you unfair, and demand that you 
treat me as if I were trustworthy, but it would scarcely be virtuous for you 
to comply with my wishes. Indeed, it would be dishonest and unjust for 
you to ignore my untrustworthiness, because you would be acting as if 
there was no difference between someone who pays back loans, and 
someone who does not. 

When we act in a virtuous manner towards others, we are creating a 
reservoir of goodwill that we can draw upon, just as when we put our 
savings into a bank. A man can act imperfectly and still be loved, just as 
a man can eat an occasional candy bar and still be healthy, but there is a 
general requirement for consistency in any discipline. I could probably 
hit a home run in a major-league ballpark once every thousand pitches, 
but that would scarcely make me a professional baseball player! 


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If I act in a trustworthy manner, I do not have to ask you to trust me - 
and in fact, I would be very unwise to do so. Either you will trust me 
voluntarily, which means that you respect honourable and consistent 
behaviour, and justly respond to those who do good, or you will not trust 
me voluntarily, which means that you do not respond in a just manner to 
trustworthy behaviour, and thus cannot be trusted yourself. 

If, on the other hand, I come up to you and demand that you trust me, I 
am engaged in a complex calculation of counterfeiting and plunder. 

The first thing I am trying to do is establish whether or not you know 
anything about trust. The second thing is to figure out your level of 
confidence and self-esteem. The third thing is figure out if you know 
anything about integrity. 

An attacker will always try to find the weakest chink in your armour. If I 
demand trust from you, and you agree to provide it - without any prior 
evidence - then I know that you do not know anything about trust. 
Similarly, if you do not require that your trust be earned, then I know 
that you lack confidence and self-esteem. If you are willing to treat me as 
if I were trustworthy when I am not trustworthy, then it is clear to me 
you know very little about integrity. 

This tells me all I need to know about your history. This tells me that 
you were never treated with respect as a child, and that you were never 
taught to judge people according to independent standards, and that 
every time you tried to stand up for yourself, your family attacked you. 

In other words, I will know that you are easy prey. 

I cannot create an obligation in you unless you accept that I have treated 
you justly in the past. As in all things, it is far easier to convince a weak 
person that you have treated him justly, than it is to actually treat people 
in a just and consistent manner. If I can convince you that I have treated 
you justly in the past, then you “owe” me trust and respect in the 
present. 


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“Love” as Predation 


Imagine that we are brothers, and one day you awake from a coma to see 
me sitting by your bed. After some small talk, I tell you that you owe me 
$ 1 ,000, which you borrowed from me the day of your accident. I tell you 
that because I am a kind brother, and you are in the hospital, you do not 
have to pay me back the thousand dollars - 1 would just like you to 
remember it, so that the next time I need to borrow $ 1 ,000, you will lend 
it to me. 

You might look in the pockets of the jeans you wore the day of your 
accident, and you might look around your apartment to see if there was 
$1,000 lying around, but there would be no real way to prove that I had 
not lent you the money. You would either have to call me a liar - an 
accusation for which you have no certain proof - or you would feel 
substantially more obligated to lend me money in the future. 

If you call me a liar, I will get angry. If you accept the obligation without 
ever finding the $1,000, you will feel resentful. Either way, our 
relationship is harmed - and by telling you about the $ 1 ,000, 1 have 
voluntarily introduced a complication and a suspicion into our 
relationship, which is scarcely loving, just or benevolent. 

This is the kind of brinksmanship and deception that goes on all the time 
in relationships - particularly in families. 

When our parents tell us that they love us, they are in fact demanding 
that we provide for them. They are basically telling us that they have lent 
us $1,000 - even if we cannot remember it - and thus we owe them trust 
in the future, if not $1,000 in the present! 

In other words, our parents spend an enormous amount of energy 
convincing us that they “love” us in order to create artificial obligations within 
us. In doing so, they take a terrible risk - and force us to make an even 
more tenable choice. 


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Brinks manship 

When somebody tells you that they love you, it is either a statement of 
genuine regard, based on mutual virtue, or it is an exploitive and unjust 
demand for your money, time, resources, or approval. 

There is very little in between. 

Either love is real, and a true joy, or love is false, and the most corrupt 
and cowardly form of theft that can be imagined. 

If love is real, then it inflicts no unjust obligations. If love is real, then it 
is freely given without demands. If a good man gives you his love, and 
you do not reciprocate it, then he just realizes that he was mistaken, 
leams a little, and moves on. If a woman tells you that she loves you, and 
then resents any hesitation or lack of reciprocation you display, then she 
does not love you, but is using the word “love” as a kind of hook, to 
entrap you into doing what she wants, to your own detriment. 

How can you possibly know whether the love that somebody expresses 
towards you is genuine or not? 

It’s very, very simple. 

When it is genuine, you feel it. 

What happens, though, when a parent demands love from us? 

Well, we must either submit to this demand, and pretend to respond in 
kind, or we must confront her on her manipulation - thus threatening 
the entire basis of the relationship. 

Would someone who truly loves us ever put us in this terrible position? 


Society and Religion 

The principle of inflicting a good opinion in order to create an unjust 
obligation occurs at a social level, as well as at a personal level. Soldiers 
are supposed to have died “protecting us,” which creates an obligation 
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for us to support the troops. The mere act of being born in a country 
creates a lifelong obligation to pay taxes at the point of a gun, in order to 
receive services that we never directly asked for. John F. Kennedy’s 
famous quote, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but rather 
what you can do for your country,” is another way of saying, “One of us 
is going to get screwed in this interaction, and it ain’t gonna be me!” 

The same thing occurs in the realm of religion, of course, as well. Jesus 
died for your sins, God loves you, you will be punished if you do not 
obey, Hell is the destination of unbelievers etc. etc. etc. 

All of these emotional tricks are designed to create an obligation in you 
that would not exist in any reasonable universe. 

“Sacrifice,” in other words, is merely demand in disguise. 


Unconscious? 

All of these substantial criticisms rest on the premise that people do 
actually know what love really is, and merely counterfeit it for the sake of 
personal gain - just as any moral criticism of a counterfeiter rests on the 
premise that he actually does know what money is, and copies it for the 
sake of personal gain. 

Naturally, it is hard to imagine that those around us are constantly 
striving to inflict artificial obligations on us through appeal to a 
fantastical kind of social mythology. When you think of your sweet, 
white-haired old mother, who sacrificed everything for you, what could 
it mean to condemn her for failing to be able to perfectly define the 
nature and properties of love, a question that baffles even great 
philosophers? 

Well of course it would be grossly unfair to ask the average person to 
accurately define the true nature of love, just as it would be ridiculous - 
not to mention dangerous - to grab the average man on the street and 
ask him to perform your appendectomy. 


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It certainly is unfair to judge people by standards that they can scarcely 
be aware of. However, it is not at all unfair to judge people according to 
the standards that they themselves have set. I cannot alone determine at what 
price you will sell me your car - but if you yourself put the price in the 
window, it is not unreasonable for me to expect you to honour it. 

Thus when people use the word “love,” they are “putting the price in the 
window.” Love of course is considered to be a feeling of high regard for 
someone, and is either based upon the virtues or characteristics of the 
loved person, or it is not. If love is not based on the characteristics of 
the loved person, then it must be based on the willpower of the person 
who loves him or her. 

If love is based on the willpower of the person who is “doing the 
loving,” then it must be considered virtuous to love so altruistically. If it 
is not virtuous to love so altruistically, then there is nothing beneficial or 
positive in the interaction, since neither the person loving nor the person 
being loved possesses any positive characteristics. We might as well 
define obsessive stalking as “love.” 

If it is “good” for Person A to love Person B despite Person B’s lack of 
lovable qualities, then this “good action” is either a universal principle, 
or a merely personal preference. If I say that ice cream is “good,” I do 
not mean that ice cream acts with virtue, courage and integrity. If I say 
that a particular action is “good,” then it must be good for more than 
one person, if it is to rise above merely personal preference. However, if 
it is “good” to love someone who has no lovable qualities, then an 
instant paradox is created. 

If I have no lovable qualities, then I do not possess “goodness,” since 
goodness is a lovable quality. If it is “good” to love someone despite an 
absence of lovable qualities, then by definition I am incapable of loving 
someone, since I lack goodness. In this way, two opposing moral rules 
are created, which cannot be valid. Person A does “good” by loving 
Person B, who is incapable of goodness. Person B can then only enable 
Person A’s “goodness” by receiving without giving - thus what is good 
for Person A is not good for Person B. 


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Again, though this can be complicated to examine syllogistically, it is an 
argument that adult children of a co-dependent parent have 
continuously. If I see my mother perpetually sacrificing everything for 
my father, I will continually ask her that if sacrificing everything for your 
spouse is good, then why does my father not sacrifice everything for her? 
Why is such sacrifice only ever good for her! Why does my father get off 
scot-free? 

It cannot be considered “good” to love someone who lacks lovable 
qualities. Love, then, is a form of payment for virtue. 

I must confess that I understood this at the age of 13, when I was a very 
shallow young man. In school, word got around that I was going to ask a 
girl to a dance. My criteria, sadly, was solely based on physical 
attractiveness. When my classmates cornered me and pestered me to 
reveal whom I was going to ask out, I finally mentioned the girl’s name, 
and was greeted with rather shocked silence. This girl, while admittedly 
attractive, was considered rather coarse and unintelligent. 

“Why would you ask her?” a friend demanded. 

“Uh, because of her. . . personality,” I stammered, convincing no one. 

Why was it that, even at such a tender age, I felt the need to invent virtue 
as the basis for my desire? Would it have been wrong to say, “She’s 
kinda purdy!” and be satisfied with that? 

And the looks in the faces of the people around me were very 
interesting. It was not so much that they knew that I was lying - that 
much was obvious. It is more that they knew why I was lying - and they 
actually had some sympathy for that, I think. 

They knew that I was lying because it is easier to make up “good” 
reasons for wanting the wrong thing than to actually want the right 
thing. 

And this lesson we have been well taught by our teachers - but I will get 
into that later. 


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When I was about 11,1 stole some money from my brother to buy a 
book. He suspected me of the theft, and spent a good deal of time and 
energy cross-examining me as to where I’d gotten the money to afford 
the book. He never could prove that I stole the money, and I 
stonewalled and evaded with fairly decent ability. 

There are three things that I remember very strongly from that long 
afternoon. 

1 . I was not troubled fundamentally about stealing, but only 
worried about getting caught. 

2. If someone had asked me if stealing were wrong, I would have 
said “yes” - and mean it. 

3. I was not worried about that blatant contradiction. 

In other words, I knew that stealing was wrong, but that knowledge was 
a mere abstraction, like knowing how many moons Jupiter has, or the 
name of the drummer for Led Zeppelin. I believed that stealing was 
wrong - but what that really meant was that I knew that I would get 
punished if I did not say that stealing was wrong. So I said it aloud, like a 
magical spell that wards off punishment, like any pagan. 

It was similar to how I would chant out my times tables, before I had 
any real understanding of arithmetic. The sentence was not “Yes, I know 
that stealing is wrong, but I wanted a book!” It was even less related than 
that: “Stealing is wrong, and I wanted a book.” Just two facts, a principle 
and a desire, not even orbiting one another. . . 

So did I know that stealing is wrong? Sure, I think I did, but for me, 
“wrong” just meant, “disapproved of.” By this time, I had lived in a 
number of different countries and classes, and I knew that “wrong” was 
not objective, because “disapproved of’ varied so enormously from 
place to place. And obviously I myself “approved of’ taking the money 
from my brother, because I did it. So there was my little “approval,” and 
lots of other people’s “disapproval,” and I thought: well, if other people get 


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to disapprove of things that I prefer, then surely I have the right to approve of things 
that they do not prefer. 

Logical, you may say. Amoral, but logical. And I would have to agree. 

But the important issue is that I knew the rules, then I broke the rules by 
applying them to myself, and so I just made up new rules. This is, I 
believe, far more common than is generally admitted. 

And so we come to the fundamental question: how responsible are we in the 
face of our own hypocrisies? 


The Open Cage. . . 

I’d like you to imagine a man standing in the middle of a large meadow. 
You spend some time watching this man, and it doesn’t take you very 
long to notice that he paces back and forth in a small square, about 10 
feet on either side. That’s all. Just 10 feet. 

After a few hours of watching him do this, you walk up to him. When 
you reach forward to shake his hand, however, your fingers are burned 
by a strong electrical shock from an invisible barrier. 

Startled - and hurt - you cry out. The man looks up. 

“What’s the matter?” he asks. 

“I just ran into this invisible wall which gave me a hell of a shock!” you 
cry. 

He frowns. “I didn’t see anything.” 

You blink. “Really? You’ve never heard or seen or felt this invisible 
barrier?” 

He shakes his head slowly. “What invisible barrier?” 

“The one that surrounds you - the one that keeps you penned in this 
little 10 foot square!” 


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“What little 10 foot square?” he demands. “There’s no little 10 foot 
square! I can go wherever the hell I want!” 

“No you can’t!” 

“Who the hell are you to tell me where I can and cannot go? I decide 
that!” 

“I’m not telling you where you can and cannot go - I’m just telling you 
what you are actually doing!” 

“What on earth are you talking about?” 

“Well. I’ve been watching you for the past few hours, and you’re 
standing in the middle of this great big meadow, and yet all you do is 
pace back and forth 10 feet.” 

“I can go anywhere I damn well please!” the man repeats angrily. 

“You say that, but all you do is pace around and around in a little 10 foot 
square! If you can go anywhere you please, why don’t you just try taking 
one extra step?” 

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he growls. “Now get the hell 
off my damn property!” 

“Wait - 1 can show you!” You reach down and pick up some grass. You 
throw it towards the man. A few feet away from his face, the blades of 
grass burst into flame and evaporate. You do this several times, proving 
definitively that there is in fact an invisible force field that surrounds 
him, roughly 10 feet by 10 feet. 

“Do you see?” you ask eagerly. “Do you see that you are in an invisible 
cage?” 

“Get the hell off my property, you madman!” he cries, shaking with rage. 

“But you must know that you are in an invisible cage,” you cry out. “You 
must know that, because you never try to go outside these walls. You 


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must have at one time tried to break free of this cage, and were burned 
by the electric shock, which is why you never take more than a few steps 
before turning around! Don’t you see ?” 

He pulls out a gun, screams that he has a principle of shooting 
trespassers, and, quite sensibly, you run away. 

This is the great paradox of attempting to teach people what they already 
know. Everybody claims complete freedom, but paces back and forth, 
trapped in a little square. Everyone is surrounded by the invisible cages 
of culture and mythology, and denies it completely. The evidence of 
these cages is very clear, because people always turn back just before 
they hit them. But then they deny that these cages exist. 

Everybody acts as if they are perfectly free, and perfectly enslaved at the 
same time. Nobody admits to being in a prison, but everyone shuffles 
around in an invisible 10x10 cell. 

In the same way, everyone tells you that they are free, but in fact 
everyone is trapped in little tiny cells of allowable conversation. 
Everybody tells you they love you, but strenuously avoids talking about 
what love is, or what about you they love. 

Everyone tells you to be good, but they have no idea what goodness is - 
and will savage you for even having the temerity to ask the question. 

Everybody talks about the truth, but the real truth is that nobody can talk 
about the truth - what it is, how it is defined, how it is verified, and its 
value. 


Responsibility 

If the man in the meadow were put into his cage when he was a toddler, 
he would have discovered the limits of his confinement - painfully - 
when he was very young. It is entirely conceivable that he would end up 
just avoiding his invisible prison bars, to retain his illusion of freedom, 


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and repress the pain of imprisonment. If you cannot escape your prison, 
then you might as well imagine that you’re free. 

The man is not responsible for being put in the cage when he was a 
toddler, and he is not responsible for his resulting repression, and he is 
not responsible for not testing the bars of his cage, but instead turning 
away before he touches them. 

There are two things, however, that he is responsible for. 

The first thing that he is responsible for denying is clear and tangible 
evidence that contradicts his belief. There are two primary pieces of 
evidence: the grass that bursts into flame, and the fact that although he 
says he is free, he never takes more than a few steps in any direction 
before turning around. 

The second thing that he is responsible for is shutting down the 
conversation when it makes him uncomfortable. 

The essence of wisdom is learning the value of “staying in the 
conversation,” even when it makes you uncomfortable. 

Especially when it makes you uncomfortable. 


Falsehood and the Conversation 

The most important thing in life is not to lie to other people - honesty is 
the most fundamental virtue. Now, just about every time a philosopher 
brings up the virtue of honesty, a blizzard of questions blocks his 
progress - questions designed to find the fuzzy areas at the limits of 
ethical behaviour, such as “Is it okay to lie if someone holds a gun to 
your head and demands to know where your wife is so that he can kill 
her?” 

This is all very interesting, but absolutely irrelevant to the world as it is. 

In the world as it is, we are so far from being able to tell the truth to 
each other that focusing on the fuzzy areas of practical honesty is like 


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asking a man who stumbles into an emergency room clutching his own 
severed arm if he needs a manicure. Or, to take another medical analogy, 
I view philosophers as essential doctors in the middle of a terrible 
plague. All around us, people are writhing and dying, and we must work 
as hard as we can to save as many people as we can - with the full 
knowledge that very few people will make it. Most modern philosophers, 
however, are sitting in the midst of all this suffering, and debating what 
the best course of action should be if a patient presents with a heart 
attack, diabetes, and a hangnail, and is struck by lightning while being 
examined. 

My response to that is: when we have reached a world that is so healthy 
that the once-a-century problems are the most important things that we 
can deal with, we shall scarcely need philosophy at all! 

Thus let us roll up our sleeves, and try to deal with the plague that is 
devouring us now, and leave the improbable problems to a future happier 
time. 

The reason that the man in the invisible cage above is to blame for his 
actions is that he was lying to you. 

When you began to point the truth out to him, he felt uncomfortable. At 
first, he seemed genuinely baffled - whether that was a ruse or not, we 
cannot tell. Then, as the evidence began to mount up, both logically and 
empirically, he began to get hostile. 

Was he lying? Of course he was. 

He was lying because he did not tell you that he was feeling 
uncomfortable, but rather began jabbering about trespassing, cursing, 
and ended up pulling out a gun. 

Was this honest? No. Was this man aware that he was feeling 
increasingly uncomfortable? Of course. Did he honestly express his 
discomfort? No. He evaded his own discomfort by attacking you. 


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As an example, when I sat down with my brother, after I had decided to 
stop seeing my mother, he presented to me the following argument: 

“Stef, you should see mother because if you don’t see her, then she is 
exercising control over your choices. If you allow the fact that you 
dislike her to control your actions, she has won, and you have lost an 
essential freedom.” 

“So,” I replied, “if I understand you correctly, you are saying that I 
should see people that I like because I like them, and I should see people 
that I dislike because otherwise they will have power over me. In other 
words, there is no one that I should ever refuse to see.” 

As usual, he rolled his eyes and shrugged. 

“But let me tell you what bothers me about this family,” I continued. “I 
strongly feel that I am never allowed to have any real preferences. I 
mean, I am allowed to have preferences in my own way, but nobody 
ever respects those preferences and changes their actions. You would 
prefer that I see mother, and so you are trying to get me to change my 
actions based on your preferences. However, at the same time, you tell 
me that my preferences are meaningless, in terms of whom I see. But 
how can your preferences require a change in my actions, but my 
preferences should require no changes in my actions?” 

Sadly, inevitably, the conversation was over at that point. 

It was clear to me even at the time that my brother was intensely 
uncomfortable with my questions. He telegraphed all the usual signals - 
pursed lips, eye rolling, tight shrugs and endless frowns. I felt a very 
strong resistance as I ploughed on, and I asked my brother if he felt 
uncomfortable. He said that he did not. 

This was, of course, the key moment in our interaction. If he had been 
honest with me, and told me that he felt uncomfortable, we could have 
talked about his discomfort, and the ways in which that discomfort 
might have been affecting his position. 


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By telling me that I was doing something wrong, when what was actually 
happening was that my choices were causing him discomfort, my brother 
was lying to me. He was, essentially, trying to manage his own 
discomfort by inflicting moral commandments upon me. He tried to 
appeal to my self-interest based on a vague “higher standard,” and when 
that failed, he disapproved of my “resistance.” My decision not to see 
our mother anymore created great anxiety in him, because it opened up 
the possibility of choice, where before there had only been an absolute. 

This was an essential aspect of our interaction. I think that I will have 
had a long life if I live to be a hundred years old. If, however, if turns out 
that technology can now allow us to live to be 200 years old, a hundred 
years will no longer seem like such a long life. Where there is no 
possibility of reaching 200 years of age, we do not feel anxious if we fail 
to reach it. If there is no possibility of not seeing your own mother, then 
we feel far less anxious if we continue to see her, even if, deep down, we 
do not want to. 

However, the moment that somebody says: “I am no longer going to see 
my mother,” this creates great anxiety within us, because a possibility 
now exists that deep down we really want which formerly we thought was 
impossible. 

When I made my decision, my brother had two choices about how to 
best manage his anxiety. He could examine that anxiety and try to 
understand its source - or, he could attempt to reduce his anxiety by 
manipulating me into seeing our mother again. 

When choice enters into our lives, where formerly we felt there were only 
absolutes, we feel anxiety, because deep down we know that that choice 
always existed, but we have been told that it was wrong to think about 
that choice. Emotionally, this leads us back to our early traumas, through 
which “culture” was inflicted upon us - and thus to a deep and bitter 
criticism of our parents and teachers - bringing us right up against the 
invisible electric fence of mythological punishment. 

We really, really do not ever want to go there. 


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If somebody breaks out of prison, you can either try to break out of 
prison yourself, or you can help the guards get him back into prison. The 
tipping point of the decision is what you decide to do with your own 
anxiety. If you decide to deal with your anxiety as an internal state, related 
to your core beliefs, your history, your false allegiances to false virtues, 
then you will be catapulted through the entire cavalcade of growth that is 
the inevitable result of deciding to stop using others to manage your 
emotions. 

It is a sad reality that, for most people, their prison doesn’t feel like a 
prison until somebody tries to break out of it. The conclusion they leap 
to is that the person who has broken out of prison is the one who 
actually turned it into a prison - by the very act of breaking out of it! It’s 
madness, of course, but all too common. 

When I sat down with my mother, about eight years ago, a very similar 
interaction occurred, just as you would expect. And, just as you would 
expect, she was much more efficient than my brother, because she 
taught him. 

The fundamental conversation went this way: 

I said: “Mom, I feel that you don’t listen to me.” 

My mother replied: “Don’t be silly - of course I listen to you!” 

Do you really need any help figuring out the blatant contradiction in this 
interaction? 

I doubt it. 


Exploitation 

If I am sick, and I need you to donate a kidney to me, I have four 
general choices: 

1 . I can tell you that I would like you to donate a kidney to me, 
with no expectation that you must do so. 


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2. I can decide not to ask you for a kidney. 

3. I can tell you that I really need you to donate a kidney, and you 
should do it because I want you to. 

4. I can tell you that it is immoral to refuse to donate a kidney to 
me, and thus you are ethically obligated to give me your kidney, 
just as you are ethically obligated to pay back a loan. 

In the first case, I am simply expressing my true and honest desire for 
your kidney. I am not manipulating you. I am not bullying you. I am 
telling you what I want. My request is not a demand - and my request, 
fundamentally, is not for your kidney, but for you to understand that I 
would like your kidney. 

This is a crucial difference, which is so easily overlooked. Saying, “I 
would like your kidney,” is not saying, “Give me your kidney!” Saying, “I 
would like to be an astronaut,” is not saying, “Make me an astronaut!” 

Either I am free to express my thoughts and feelings to you, or I am not. 
If I am free to do so, then of course I must be free to express what I 
would prefer you to do, if that is what I think. 

If you interpret my preferences as commandments that you must comply 
with, then you will naturally prefer that I never express a preference. If 
you hate the taste of ice cream, but every time I said, “I like ice cream,” 
you had to eat a bowl, you would obviously prefer that I not say “I like 
ice cream” anymore. Because my desires enslave you, you must enslave 
my desires. 

The best and most terrible way to enslave another human being is to 
interpret his desires as commandments. If, every time I express my 
preferences, you interpret them as commandments, then you must 
inevitably be led to controlling, minimizing, ignoring or attacking my 
preferences. 

In other words, if my desires are commandments, then my preferences 
are attacks upon you. 


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And the only antidote to this is curiosity. 


Curiosity 

The opposite of tyranny is curiosity. The opposite of ignorance is 
curiosity. The opposite of manipulation is curiosity. 

The opposite of immaturity is curiosity, because to be curious is to be 
wise. 

What is the most logical and mature response to the statement: “I would 
like you to give me your kidney.”? 

Is it: 

a. “Sure, here you go - 1 even iced it for you.” 

b. [blank stare] 

c. “Don’t ask me, it makes me uncomfortable.” 

d. “How about those Mets?” 

e. “I told you not to play rugby, you never listen to me, I can’t 
believe you would have the balls to ask me, how selfish and 
manipulative can you get?’ 

f. “Tell me more.” 

If we really understand the nature of the statement, which is “I have a 
feeling called ‘I would prefer for you to give me your kidney’,” then 
together we can examine the nature of that feeling. If I am standing at a 
bus stop, and a woman next to me says, “Feels like rain,” it would be 
quite logical for me to ask, if I was curious, “What does that feel like?” 
Arguing about whether rain was imminent or not would be illogical, 
because the woman did not say, “It’s about to rain.” What she said was, 
“Feels like rain,” which is quite different. It is a statement of an inner 
experience, not an outward prediction, command or expectation. 


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If I say to you, “I dreamt about an elephant last night,” could you 
logically disagree with me? You might not be particularly interested in 
my dream, but it would make precious little sense to dispute my 
statement. Either I am telling the truth, or I am not. If I am telling the 
truth, there is nothing to argue about - if I am not, there’s still nothing 
to argue about, because you will never have one single shred of evidence 
that I am lying. 

Thus when I say to you, “I would like you to give me your kidney,” it’s 
the first three words that are important, not the last four. But everyone 
focuses on the last four, considers them a bullying demand, and thus 
must spend the rest of their mortal existence managing and controlling 
the first three. 

Statements of preference are just statements of inner experience, and if we 
care about the person who is expressing them, we will be curious about 
her inner experience. 

Thus, to extrapolate to something slightly more generic than kidneys, if 
you are doing something that bothers me, I have four general choices: 

1. I can tell you that I am bothered by what you’re doing, with no 
expectation that you must change your behaviour. 

2. I can leave the situation. 

3. I can tell you that what you’re doing bothers me, and that you 
should stop it because it bothers me. 

4. I can tell you that what you’re doing is immoral, and you should 
stop it because it’s wrong. 

Of course, if people in general were mature and wise, they would mostly 
choose what was behind door number one - occasionally, they would 
leave through door number two for a brief period if they were upset, but 
they would never open doors three and four. 

However, the world is neither wise nor mature, and so children quickly 
learn that when adults are upset or anxious, it is the children’s behaviour 
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that must always change. If my mother is anxious about me dating, the 
“solution” is for me not to date. If my father will be embarrassed by my 
absence from church, I must go to church. If my mother will feel 
embarrassed if I do not kiss my smelly old grandmother, it’s pucker time! 
If my mother will feel mortified if I snatch a toy from another child, the 
solution is for me to “play nicely.” (Of course I really should not snatch 
toys; the problem is that my mother is not curious why I do so, but 
merely controls the symptoms, instead of working to understand the 
cause.) 


Attack 

When I was 14 or so, I took a summer school course, desperate to get 
out of the mental gulag of public school as quickly as humanly possible. 

I had a brittle and belligerent male teacher, who demanded that we show 
up on the dot at 8:30 am, but then would have us sit and read a textbook 
for the first 30-40 minutes of the class. He also showed really boring 
documentaries, spoke in a monotone, and was completely obsessed with 
JFK assassination conspiracy theories. 

Occasionally, I would get very sleepy, and I would put my head down on 
my desk for a few minutes. I never fell asleep, but it certainly could have 
looked that way. 

After a couple of weeks of classes, I got up to do a presentation on 
slavery. Just before I began, this teacher held up his hand and ordered 
everyone to put their heads down on their desk. 

All the other children were pretty confused, as you can imagine - as was 
I. After a few minutes of bullying and ordering, all the children in the 
room put their heads down on their desks. My face was very pale, and I 
was alarmed, to say the least. 

When everyone’s head was down, the teacher turned and literally 
screamed at me: “Do you see how it feels? Do you see how it feels when 
you’re trying to teach people something, and they put their heads down 


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on their desks? DO YOU SEE HOW IT FEELS? THAT’S RUDE! 
DON’T DO THAT!” His veins were literally bulging out of his neck. 

And then, of course, he demanded that I deliver my presentation. 

What was going on here? 

The amazing thing about people who abuse children, is that they really 
have no idea how the children actually see them. I knew that he had all 
the power, but it really was a very sad spectacle, and I got a very strong 
impression of a futile, self-loathing and pathetic life. Perhaps they 
imagine that bullying children makes them look strong, but the degree of 
contempt that I felt - and feel - towards those who bully the helpless is 
almost beyond words, and I do not think that I am alone in that. When 
we think of the radioactive contempt that teenagers often have towards 
their parents and other authority figures, I think it’s fairly easy to see that 
bullying children does not generate respect - any more than beating your 
wife generates love. 

Let’s call this teacher Bob, since I have no idea what his name is, after all 
these years. Clearly, Bob did not feel like a very good teacher, because a 
good teacher would regard an exhausted student with curiosity. I could 
be tired because I cannot sleep, or have problems at home, or have a 
hormonal imbalance, or some other reason that has precious little to do 
with his teaching ability - or I could be tired because he is a boring 
teacher. 

If Bob shows no curiosity as to why I am tired, then he will never know 
why. If I am sick, or stressed (and I was working three jobs at this point 
in my childhood), he might be able to help me in some way - or at least, 
he will have established that it is not because he is a boring teacher. 

If he finds out that I am tired because he is a boring teacher, then 
obviously that can be painful, but I have absolutely no doubt that Bob 
would prefer to be an exciting teacher than a boring one. If he had 
invested the time to try and figure out - with me - why I was tired, then 
he might have been able to learn how to become a more exciting 


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teacher, which would have been in line with his own values, and so made 
him happier. 

The truth of the matter, of course, as we have seen above, is that, deep 
down, Bob was absolutely convinced that he was a terrible teacher. 

When I put my head down on my desk, it confirmed his worst fears, 
which he violently rejected. 

When we understand the power of mythology, it is clear how little Bob 
understood about what I was doing, and what I was communicating. 

When I put my head down on my desk, I was not saying, “Bob, you are 
a terrible teacher.” I was not saying, “I am putting my head down on my 
desk to defy your authority.” I was not saying, “I am putting my head 
down on my desk because I am a rude and selfish individual who cares 
nothing for anyone else’s feelings.” 

When I put my head down on my desk, I was only saying: “lam tired.” 

Everything else was just mythology - paranoid and vicious fairy tales. 

Everything else was Bob’s invention, and he invented everything else in 
order to strenuously avoid being curious. 

Why? Why was he so terrified of curiosity? 

It’s simple. 

The reason that we are not curious is that we already know the answers, 
and we do not like them. 


Wisdom and Pain 

Pain is our body’ s way of telling us what we need to deal with, of helping 
us prioritize our actions relative to health. Our body does not report on 
organs that are functioning well, but the moment that a tooth gets 
infected, we know all about it! 


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In other words, pain tells us what we need to do. If our tooth hurts, we 
need to go to a dentist. Pain informs us of the problems we need to 
solve. 

If we think of our life before anaesthetics, it’s easy to understand that we 
usually had to accept an increase in pain in order to become healthier. 

An infected tooth had to be pulled out. Nowadays, we sometimes have 
to go through the pain of chemotherapy in order to treat cancer. 

This is the challenge of pain - we do not like it, but often have to accept 
a temporary increase of it in order to become healthier. 

If I break my leg, it really hurts - that’s why I stop moving it. After my 
leg has healed, to regain full strength and mobility, I have to endure the 
pain of physiotherapy. 

Injuries can also make us stronger. If I survive a heart attack, I may 
choose to lose weight, eat better, exercise and so on - I may in fact be 
healthier than if I had never had a heart attack. Similarly, if I break my 
leg, my leg can end up stronger, as a result of the exercise required to 
restore strength and mobility. Losing a tooth can generate a desire for 
better oral hygiene. 

There are several key differences between physical pain and 
psychological pain, however, which you really need to understand if you 
want to become healthier and happier in the long run. 

The first and most important difference is that psychological pain can be 
transferred from one person to another. If my tooth hurts, I cannot transfer my 
toothache to you - but quite the opposite is true for psychological pain, 
at least in the short run. 

If I feel anxiety about what you are doing, I can temporarily reduce that 
anxiety by forcing you to change your behaviour, just as I can 
temporarily reduce the pain of a toothache by taking painkillers - the 
difference being that when I take painkillers, you do not feel my 
toothache. 


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The transfer of psychological pain almost always occurs in a hierarchical 
relationship, such as parent-child, boss-employee, a 
dominant/submissive marriage and so on. Helplessness and dependence 

- real for children, fantasized for adults - are required to be on the 
receiving end of this kind of parasitical emotional exploitation. 

This is the main reason why hegemonic or hierarchical power relations 
exist. We do not throw our garbage into a dump because the dump just 
happens to be there - the dump only exists because we need to throw our 
garbage somewhere. In the same way, we do not exploit people because 
they’re helpless; we make them helpless in order to exploit them. 

Bob did not end up abusing children because he had power as a teacher 

- he sought power as a teacher in order to abuse children. 

Power does not create corruption; the desire to corrupt creates power. 

When we are in an agony of psychological distress, it is utterly 
counterintuitive to want to feel more of that agony - just as it is 
counterintuitive to want to pull out a tooth that already hurts, or start 
chemotherapy when you do not feel sick. 

Yet that is precisely what is required, if we wish to become healthy. 

If I choose not to go to physiotherapy after my broken leg heals, I am 
the only one who has to live with the resulting weakness and lack of 
mobility. If I choose to manage my anxiety by attacking the helpless, 
however, I gain temporary relief from my discomfort only by inflicting 
my distress on others. 

And this is how the entire system reproduces itself. 

In essence, by attempting to humiliate me so horrendously, Bob was 
attempting to infect me with the virus of abuse. Because he was not 
mature or wise enough to take ownership for his own emotions, he 
inevitably believed that I was the source of his anxiety. Since I was 
“inflicting” anxiety upon him, I was acting in a “hostile” manner, just as 


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if I were injecting him with a poison - and thus his attack on me was a 
twisted form of self-defence. 

Furthermore, by inflicting his “humiliation” on me, Bob was demanding 
that I have empathy for his feelings - but if empathy is a value, why 
would he not have empathy for my exhaustion? 

Without a doubt, Bob had been ignored and repeatedly humiliated as a 
child, and forced to comply with the irrational whims of those who held 
power over him. The natural pattern-making habits of his brain thus 
created a universal commandment: “You must obey those in power!” - 
or, more accurately: “Disobeying those in power will cause you to be 
attacked and humiliated.” 

There are three major components to the psychological agony that 
results from the establishment of this principle. 

The first is the shame and embarrassment that results from being 
humiliated. 

The second is the horror of being trapped in the power of those who act 
abusively. 

The third is the rage that results from being told that such abuse is 
actually virtuous - “This is for your own good!” 

When we are abused as children, we are put into a terrible predicament, 
because we are utterly dependent on our abusers. A form of the 
“Stockholm syndrome” sets in, and we force ourselves to “respect” 
those who abuse us. This is an entirely sensible survival strategy, because 
the horror of knowing that we will be under the abusive control of our 
parents for years to come would be too great for us to bear. Also, since 
we are punished for not showing respect, it is easier just to “respect” 
them rather than continually have to pretend to - which they will 
doubtless see through, and punish. 

Furthermore, since abuse is always cloaked with self-righteous moral 
justifications (“It is morally wrong to disobey me!”), we also experience 


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an existential horror, because we know that our parents are using moral 
terms - and our own desire for goodness - to humiliate, control and 
bully us. In other words, they use goodness in the service of evil, which is 
the worst corruption of all. 

Thus we are inevitably led to invert rational moral standards - bullying 
the helpless inevitably becomes virtue. 


Absolutes 

We can choose not to eat, but we cannot erase our body’s need for food. 
We can choose to jump off a cliff, but we cannot choose to defy gravity. 

We can pretend that lies are true, and that vices are virtues, but we 
cannot turn lies into truth, or vices into virtues. 

We cannot erase the truth within ourselves; we can only suppress and 
distort it. 

Fundamentally, philosophy is not invention, but excavation; not 
exploration, but archaeology. 

When we are abused as children, as Bob surely was, we desperately try to 
numb our pain by imagining that our abusers are virtuous. Deep down, 
we know the truth though, which is why our distortions cause us such 
agony in the long run. 

We can use other people to “manage” our anxieties as surely as we can 
use drugs and alcohol to “manage” our anxieties. 

The disparity between the mythologies we must invent in order to survive our 
childhoods and the reality we know to be true is the most fundamental source of our 
depression and anxiety. 

In other words, fantasy is the scar tissue of abuse. 

When Bob saw me put my head on my desk, I “created” anxiety in him 
because I was not acting on a premise that he believed to be a moral 


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absolute: “You must respect and obey those in power!” His hysterical 
reaction to my innocuous doziness resulted not because he believed that 
I should obey those in power, but because, deep down, he knew that it 
was in fact immoral to obey those in power - and because he also knew that if 
someone in power demands obedience, it is because that person is not 
moral. 

In other words, he avoided the pain of his own abuse by pretending that 
he was not abused - by pretending that his abusers were moral. He did 
this by transforming the control that was inflicted on him from a 
practical principle of obedience to a moral standard of perfection. 


Justification as Prediction 

Imagine that I live in England, and for decades I have been ranting 
about immigrants who do not take the time to learn English. “How can 
you come and live in a place and never take the trouble to learn the 
language? It’s disrespectful, it’s rude, and it’s cloistered. Anybody who 
wishes to be a decent citizen must take the trouble to learn the language!” 

I publish countless articles on this topic, I make public speeches on it, 
and end friendships with those who disagree with me. 

In other words, I am really committed to this idea. 

Then, imagine that I move to Sweden. I live in Sweden for a year, and 
then come back to England for a visit. 

"So, how’s Sweden?” you ask. 

“Great!” I reply. 

“And how’s your Swedish coming along?” 

“Oh, I haven’t learned any Swedish, why would I?” 

Would that surprise you? Would you feel that I was being rather 
hypocritical? Would you feel a strong desire to cross-examine me more 


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closely about my strong and openly professed belief that the inhabitants 
of a country are morally obligated to leam the language? 

If I explain the inconsistency between my beliefs and my actions by 
saying that it turns out it is very hard to leam a new language, and that it 
is not really necessary if you live within the confines of an expatriate 
cultural group - would you feel compelled to point out that this is the 
exact opposite of the position that I have publicly and vociferously taken 
for many years? 

I imagine that you would suggest it would be appropriate for me to write 
a follow-up article, repudiating my earlier views, based on my new 
understanding. 

Would my blanket refusal to do any such thing affect your opinion of 
me? 

This is the cycle of abuse. 

When we, as children, justify the abuses of our parents in order to 
survive the situation, we are setting up moral absolutes about the right 
and proper use of power. “It is moral for those who have power to hurt 
those who do not have power, in order to protect them, guide them, or 
‘toughen them up.’” 

This is how we justify and survive the harm done to us. 

This is why we so often repeat and re -inflict the harm done to us. 

If I were a publicly xenophobic Brit who moved to Sweden, I would be 
perfectly aware of all the criticisms I would face if I did not try to learn 
Swedish. I would know that I would either have to leam Swedish - and 
learn it well - or publicly repudiate all my earlier opinions. 

“Flip-flopping” on principles is very humiliating, because everyone who 
proclaims a truth inevitably claims that that truth is based on reason and 
evidence. No one puts forward a “truth” claiming it is based on mere 
unsubstantiated opinion - because then, of course, it would not be the 
truth. 


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Thus someone who claims “the truth” always says that this truth is 
merely derived from reason and evidence - even those who claim “faith” 
as the basis for their beliefs say that faith provides evidence, and thus it 
is rational to believe truths based on faith. 

If someone who claims a truth later has to completely reverse his 
position, he can only credibly do so if new evidence arises. For instance, 
if it turns out that the universe is in fact powered by invisible pixies on 
treadmills, I will have to revise some of my opinions on reality - but only 
because new evidence has come to light. 

If, however, no new evidence has come to light, then clearly evidence 
cannot be believably cited as the justification for one’s earlier position. 
What becomes clear is that one’s earlier position was based on prejudice, 
but that reason and evidence were cited as justifications. 

This is an essential point - and very similar to the ethical and cultural 
hypocrisies discussed above. 

When I cite reason and evidence as the justifications for my beliefs, I am 
affirming the power of reason and evidence. In other words, I fully 
accept and respect the primacy of reason and evidence in determining 
the truth-value of beliefs. 

If it turns out that I had no real reason or evidence for my beliefs, then I 
am engaged in the same kind of terrible hypocrisy peipetrated by those 
who use moral arguments for immoral ends. I am using reason and 
evidence to support subjective bigotry. 

This hypocrisy lies at the root of my public and private pronouncements 
regarding truth. If it comes to light that I have been using the values of 
reason and evidence to promote bigotry and prejudice, then not only 
have all my prior statements become worse than useless, but I stand 
revealed as a hypocrite, a fraud and a manipulator. 

All my credibility is shot. All my prior statements become examples not 
of empirical truth, but of rank hypocrisy. 


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Not good. 

This is exactly what happens when we maintain our childhood 
justifications for our parents’ abuses into adulthood. 

If we believe that the abuse of power is moral, we will inevitably be led 
to abuse power. If I go to Sweden, but do not leam Swedish, then I will 
have to lie and prevaricate, or pretend that I have learned Swedish, or am 
about to learn Swedish and so on. Or, I will have to enter the magical 
land of “this is just somehow different ,” which will inevitably require that I 
substitute aggression for consistency when questioned. 

We replicate what we praise. Our justifications guide our lives as surely 
as train tracks guide a train. The lies we believe today are the lives we will 
live tomorrow. 

The teacher who humiliated me did so because he believed that that’s 
what those in power must do. 

Almost everyone, when faced with the choice of hypocrisy or abuse, 
chooses abuse. 


Sadism as Salvation 

If I go to a doctor because I have made myself sick by smoking, and the 
doctor prescribes a treatment that causes me pain, my doctor is not 
cruel, but helpful. The doctor does not seek me out and hurt me because 
he is sadistic, but rather I must seek out the doctor for a cure because I 
have hurt myself by smoking. I should not resent the doctor for the pain 
of his cure, but rather thank him for his ability to help me. The doctor is 
not responsible for my pain. I am. 

A child born in a prison will almost inevitably say: “I don’t obey the 
prison guards because they are sadists with truncheons, but rather 
because the prison guards are morally virtuous, and trying to help me.” 

There is a terrible cost to this belief, as there is to all fantasies. 


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If my prison guards hit me with truncheons, I must obey them. If I 
accept that I obey them because they hit me with truncheons, I feel 
terribly humiliated and helpless, but retain an accurate assessment of the 
situation. On the other hand, I can choose to reduce my humiliation by 
imagining not that I comply because I am hit, but rather that 1 am hit 
because I disobey . It is not my noncompliance with the guard’s whims that 
gets me beaten, but rather my noncompliance with moral virtues. The 
guards do not beat me because they are sadistic - I am beaten because I 
am evil. The guards are not responsible for beating me - I am 
responsible for being beaten. The guards are not trying to humiliate me; 
they are trying to help me, to make me a better person, just as the doctor 
is trying to help me by making me healthy again. 

Do you see how the agony of moral corruption can be transferred from 
one person to another? 

If my parents beat me not because they are bad, but rather because I am 
bad, I can retain some sense of honour and control within an abusive 
and hopeless situation. 

If, however, I retain this fantasy after I become an adult - after I gain 
power over others - then my survival strategy will become exploitive 
destruction. The equation of abuse with virtue that formerly allowed me 
to survive now corrupts me. I have become what I originally feared and 
despised. 

Thus, when my actions conflicted with Bob’s belief that it was virtuous 
to obey those in power, I created great anxiety in him, and triggered his 
defences, by triggering all his memories of being abused. 

I was creating a choice where he believed there was only an absolute. I 
was also acting in an “immoral” manner, and he had been taught as a 
child that it is moral to attack someone who is acting in an “immoral” 
manner. 

Thus, to defend his fantasies about his parents’ virtue, to ward off the 
growing anxiety and horror he felt about the lies he had to invent to 
survive his own abuse, to crush the freedom that I possessed and which 
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he did not, to legitimize a false moral absolute - and, fundamentally, to 
both re-create his parents’ abuse, and to be the “bad” person his parents 
claimed him to be - all in order to justify their abuse - he attacked me. 

If I had never understood this, I would very likely have become Bob, 
and passed along my own abuse. 

If I had taken Bob’s abuse personally, I would have absorbed an agony 
that I would have inevitably inflicted on others, most likely children. 

But Bob’s abuse had no more to do with me than my sleepiness had to 
do with Bob. 

He lashed out at me because he knew the truth deep down, but could 
not accept it. 

He tried to humiliate me because, in his own mind, one of us had to be 
humiliated - and I started it! 

He did evil in order to protect the “virtue” of evil. 

And it is time for us - all of us, around the world - to stop. 


How To Change 

I was originally planning for this book to be longer, but as I reached this 
point in the text, I began to feel a growing anxiety, which was hard for 
me to understand. I thought it might be because I had started this book 
without a plan, and was losing my way. As my wife and I reread the 
book, though, it was clear that it flowed quite well. 

Last night, we went for a walk, and discussed the content and form of 
this book. In just over 16 months, I have produced over 800 podcasts, 
so it’s not as if I am anywhere close to running out of things to talk about! 

However, when you have been immersed in a discipline for a quarter- 
century, it can be hard to remember what it’s like starting out. I am now 
quite sure that my anxiety stems from a concern that a longer book 


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would be too hard to digest. When you want to eat a dessert, five pies 
are not better than one pie. 

We will surely speak again, but I think that we have spoken enough for 
now. 

The ideas in this book will change your life if you think about them, and 
act upon them. The purpose of philosophy is not thought, but action - 
just as the puipose of medicine is not treatment, but health. 

These ideas are in your mind now, and will never go away. You will no 
more be able to unlearn these truths than you will be able to unlearn that 
two plus two make four. Thus it is essential that your journey does not 
stop with reading this book. It is essential that philosophy be a 
conversation in your life - that you talk about your experience of these 
ideas with those around you, no matter how terrifying it is. 

This book is not a call to meditation, but to action. 

In a world full of falsehoods, the truth will isolate you if you do not stay 
in the conversation. 

So - go and live the truth by speaking the truth. 


For more information on philosophy, please visit Freedomain Radio at 
www.freedomainradio.com for free podcasts, articles, videos, and a thriving online community. 


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